The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking
September 21, 2012 - January 27, 2013
Curated by Visiting Assistant Professor Nina Samuel and students
"The beauty of material thinking that can be found in the visual detritus of scientific investigation."
Focusing primarily on the work of Benoît Mandelbrot (1924–2010), one of the most notable mathematicians of the twentieth century, this exhibition explores the role of images in scientific thinking. With their capacity to generate and shape knowledge, images are at the very core of scientific investigation: charts, graphs, notebooks, instrument readings, technological representations, even mental abstractions--all make up the essential stuff of which it is made.
This exhibition and its accompanying publication should raise questions about the merits of the idea that the illustration of a work must always be secondary to the work itself. On the contrary: Substantive images often play generative roles in the scientific process, constituting a kind of material thinking conducted by producing and interpreting visual traces, such as computer-generated images. These images are often aesthetically compelling even if they are initially scientifically impenetrable. This constitutes another revelation of the exhibition: the beauty of material thinking that can be found in the visual detritus of scientific investigation.
Nina Samuel, editor
Over the past few decades, the "pictorial turn" in the natural sciences, prompted by the computer's capacity to produce visual representations, has generated considerable theoretical interest. Poised between their materiality and the abstract level they are meant to convey, scientific images are always intersections of form and meaning. Benoît Mandelbrot (1924–2010), one of the best-known producers of digital images in scientific and industrial research, was particularly curious about the ways in which the materiality of scientific representation was able to influence the development of the ideas and abstractions the images embodied.
Using images and objects found in Mandelbrot's office, this book questions the relationship between the visual and scientific reasoning in fractal geometry and chaos theory, among the most popular fields to use digital scientific imagery in the past century. These unpublished materials offer new connections between the material world and that of mathematical ideas. Work by Adrien Douady and Otto Rössler provides historical depth to the analysis.
The Focus Gallery presents small-scale exhibitions that are part of an academically innovative project that also includes graduate seminars, public programming, and publications both in print and online. Envisaged as a laboratory, Focus Gallery projects promote experimentation in display, interpretation, and the use of digital media and reflect the BGC’s commitment to exhibitions as integral to scholarly activity.
Top Image:Benoît Mandelbrot and Sigmund Handelman. Polaroid from the series "Landscape and Galaxies", 1974-1977. Collection Aliette Mandelbrot.
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