"Seeing numbers abstractly", an artist statement focused on my use of numbers, appears in the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, published by Taylor and Francis Group,UK, Volume 14, 2020 – Issue 1-2: Artists Viewpoints, pp. 134-137.
Seeing numbers abstractly
I am an artist who uses numbers. I create geometric abstractions by using sequences derived from the numbers pi and e, prime numbers, Pascal’s Triangle, grids, and repetition of simple geometric shapes as tools in devising systems for mapping and visualizing numerical values by which I can create new and uncommon patterns.
Numbers are both the content and means to various ends. In some works, the articulation of digits is direct, thereby more obvious and readable. In the works where hundreds of digits are used in multiple layers that collapse into a single two-dimensional surface, the system and precise sequence used can be difficult if not impossible to reverse engineer but, numbers in specific sequences are always the works’ referent, their source of abstraction, and their structural foundation.
At the conclusion of my BFA, I recognized that my internal compass naturally gravitates towards minimal expressions; that I like solving the puzzle of abstracting or compressing a more complex concept into a reduced form; and that the principle that every material and its process has its own voice, its own way of articulating a specific referent, is important to me.
The majority of my past works are wall-based, geometric, crocheted fiberglass constructions. I create my own fiberglass cloth by crocheting continuous strands of fiberglass into flat geometric shapes. These are then formed and hardened with the application of polyester resin and the use of gravity. Industry standard would be to lay the resin wetted cloth over or into a mold which would flatten my cloth’s internal texture created by the crocheting process. Instead, I drape it over a frame or jig to achieve a naturally occurring curve and retain the crocheted three-dimensional surface. Small finished units are sewn together with the fiberglass into medium sized blocks which may assemble to form a larger unit or grid structure.
During my MFA studies at the University of Chicago, I began making sculptures that explored dialogues dealing with the nature of being human, of personal individuality, and of collective identity. In 1996, two years after completing my MFA in Sculpture, during an exploration into materials and processes that would support my conceptual agenda, I began developing my signature process of crocheting fiberglass. In 2001, I was looking for a way to break up a line of 80+ crocheted fiberglass discs by inserting spaces, in a seemingly random, asymmetrical, and unpredictable manner. My mathematician husband pointed me towards pi. I realized then that mathematical patterns are found in all manner of life and that numbers are in all aspects of identity as numbers label, classify, and define our place and identity within family, community, and the greater population. Mathematical structures became part of my conceptual toolbox. Since January 2007, all my work has been number generated.
The crocheted fiberglass work lends itself to direct, easily readable, ways of visualizing numbers. One direct way to visually spell out a sequence of numbers is to literally count them out, creating a sort of surface pattern. Identity Sequence e 4 (121 × 117 × 8 in.), a grid of 17 rows and 19 columns, is constructed from 323 small units to straightforwardly represent the first 54 digits of the number e. Reading left to right and top to bottom, pale neutral tone units directly articulate each digit with fully saturated colors marking the space between them. Another direct, more active sculptural method maps numerical relationships as spatial relationships where the value of digits determines the length of convex forms. One such group, pi Etude ... 3238462643383, is a direct articulation of a sequence of 13 consecutive digits within the number pi. Each of the 13 individual units is 13 inches wide. The value of each digit determines a unit’s height and depth.
My focus is not only on how to express digits visually in various materials and processes but also on what systems to use in specific circumstances. A State of Illinois Capital Development commission for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign necessitated that I incorporate a system I have not yet used with two often used expressions. The artwork needed to span 120 feet of wall-space in a corridor that houses ATLAS, Department of Applied Technologies for Learning in the Arts & Sciences. I was to create an artwork in crocheted fiberglass, based on a numerical sequence, and somehow incorporate a reference to computers. This is the one and only time that I incorporated a binary code. Lifesaver Movement in e is a group of 30 convex squares, each approximately 29 × 30 × 4 inches, based on the beginning sequence of the number.
Squares were created using filet charting, a traditional crochet format based on patterns created on a grid, where squares are either filled or left open to create an image. All computer language is based in binary code, a code of either 0 or 1 for a computer to toggle between. The code in a computer language is based in strings. Each binary string has eight binary bits that look like a bunch of 0s and 1s in a certain pattern unique for each letter of the alphabet. It seemed fitting to combine these two on/off systems where 0 = off = open square and 1 = on = filled square. Using a free online text to binary translator, I translated digits in text (the words: zero, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine) to binary strings. The pattern within each square spells out a single digit. The 30 squares represent the first 30 digits of e.
Following the sequence, the 31st through 36th digits of e, 266249, determine how the line of 30 squares breaks into smaller groups. The first 2 squares are hung higher, the next 6 are hung lower, the next 6 higher, and so on. Referencing 30 more digits of e, in sequence, I use a different method to determine color placement. Each of the five colors had a specific designation. White was color 1, red color 2, and so on. As example, the next 4 digits in the e sequence are 7757. When working out the color pattern in preliminary drawings, I counted 7 spaces and placed white, then 7 more spaces and placed red, then 5 spaces to place color 3. I kept running the sequence left to right until all 30 blocks had a color designation.
In 2011, I began exploring new systems of mapping sequences in drawings, with various media, including encaustic on panel, wet and dry media on panel and on paper, a series of screen prints, and marker and dry media on synthetic papers such as Yupo, Dura-Lar, and clear film. These two-dimensional works range from simple drawings anchored in graphs to complex layered patterns that visualize hundreds of digits.
One example, e Grid 701 (graphite, PITT pen, and gesso on panel, 17 × 24 × 1 in.) maps the first 701 digits of e, in several passes, on a single surface. In contrast, while working with translucent synthetic papers, each mapping pass creates a unique pattern on a new sheet.These can be stacked and grommeted together to create one complex pattern.
Another drawing example is a small sketchbook that contains 37 figures found by a system that plots sequences from pi and e on a graph. Two digits create a point. I follow a sequence to drop several points, then join them in sequential order to create a new form. So far, I have briefly tested 4-point, 5-point, 8-point, and 12-point figures, either solo or two or more in each graph.
In 2016, I was introduced to a laser cutter and have since focused on developing a body of wall-based works, using laser-cut acrylic sheets separated by vinyl spacers. Here, simple geometric shapes, panel placement, cut-outs and/or engraved lines plot numerical values. In the laser-cut acrylic pi x 5s series, each work systematically interprets, or maps, a different five digit sequence from pi. Here, the values of four digits determine the diameters of half-circles cut from small panels which then overlap to create a square. The fifth digit moves one panel by a specific increment. Because, on the grand scale, no set of digits in pi repeats, as I expand this series, or any series, by following the digits in sequence, I can create an infinite number of unique works.
New systems are inspired not only by math but also by available materials. Availability of mirrored acrylic and the fact that e has a palindrome near its beginning (2.718281828) led to the Palindrome series. Using the sequence 8281828, values of digits determine diameters of circles cut from three transparent acrylic sheets, stacked with spacers and aligned on centers, to indicate the first 828. The value of 1 is engraved into the base sheet. Mirror reflections of physical cutouts represent the last three digits.