[rohrpost] exhibition in NYC: The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking, September 21, 2012 – January 27, 2013

Ingeborg Reichle ingeborg.reichle at kunstgeschichte.de
Mon Sep 10 18:12:06 CEST 2012

Exhibition and publication: The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot:
Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking

The Bard Graduate Center Gallery, New York City, 18 West 86th Street

On view September 21, 2012 – January 27, 2013

The exhibition explores the role of images in scientific thinking
featuring never before exhibited works on paper and objects including
dynamic black and white drawings, computer print-outs, photographs,
and computer-generated films Focusing primarily on the work of one of
the most notable mathematicians of the twentieth century, The Islands
of Benoît Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality of Thinking
explores the role of images in the development of what has become
known as fractal geometry and chaos theory. Nina Samuel, visiting
professor from Das Technisches Bild in Berlin, is the curator of this
exhibition, which will be on view at the Bard Graduate Center from
September 21, 2012 to January 27, 2013.

For thousands of years, Western thought assumed that fundamental
geometry consisted of regular, ideal forms, such as cubes, spheres,
and cones, with straight or evenly curved faces and edges. Benoît
Mandelbrot (1924–2010), however, explored mathematics as he saw it— in
all its untidiness and irregularity, devoting himself to the study,
for example, of the forms of the coastlines of real islands, with all
their unpredictable inlets, creeks, and furrows. Mandelbrot, in other
words, looked at the world. In so doing, he flouted what was in effect
a prohibition pervading much of mathematical thinking against the use
of visual representation. To reintroduce the visual, Mandelbrot took
the groundbreaking step of harnessing the potential of computers,
thereby transforming mathematics into an experimental science. The
result was his invention of fractal geometry, a geometry of actuality
rather than of abstraction, as exemplified in his classic work, The
Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982).

The notion of islands is central to Mandelbrot’s work, associated in
his thinking with both the inspiring and the seductive role of images.
They challenge his own dictum that “seeing is believing” and point to
the interaction between the hand and computer visualizations to
generate new ideas. Frequently, the computer alone is unable to give
an insight, and hand drawing becomes necessary for transforming a
confusing computer image into a new idea or theory.

At his death in 2010, Mandelbrot left a mass of idiosyncratically
organized drawings, computer print-outs, films, manuscript scribbles,
objects, and polaroids in his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts— an
extraordinary trove to which Mandelbrot’s wife, Aliette, generously
allowed Professor Samuel access. “To explore it was like wandering
through the mathematician’s brain,” said Samuel. “It was like
witnessing the ephemeral traces of his very thought processes.”
Selections from these materials form the core of the exhibition.

Along with this rare look into Mandelbrot’s working process, sketches
from his contemporaries — the French mathematician Adrien Douady and
the German biochemist Otto E. Rössler — will also be publicly
exhibited for the first time. The work of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz, a pioneer of chaos
theory, will be represented by loans from the Library of Congress.
The Islands of Benoît Mandelbrot: Fractals, Chaos, and the Materiality
of Thinking allows the viewer to question 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.

The Bard Graduate Center Gallery is located in New York City at 18
West 86th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.
Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and
Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The admission fee is $7 general, $5
senior and students (valid ID); admission is free Thursday evenings
after 5 p.m. For more information about the Bard Graduate Center and
upcoming exhibitions, please visit bgc.bard.edu.