EXPLORE / 2015 /Cartography of Tree Space
The goal of this collaboration is to engage mathematics and the visual arts in a direct manner, with concrete outputs, that does not insult either field. In other words, new mathematical questions need to be formulated and new artworks need to be produced for the success of this venture.
Visual artist Owen Schuh and mathematician Satyan Devadoss are exploring the mathematical concept known as tree space. Inspired by the Renaissance ideal of fluidity between the humanities and the sciences, they are using 21st century mathematics to create work ad rem to both fields.
Tree space is a mathematical model for the geometric relation between different branching configurations. In a mathematical paper, the diagram presented will include exactly the information necessary for interpretation, no more and no less. It is curated for academic application. The artistic object seeks to capture some other “truth” or holistic sense of this mathematical object communicable to the viewer through its aesthetic. Both approaches begin with inspiration and go through messy, arduous processes of creation and continual refinement; the artist and the mathematician labor through much the same passions. On the surface, the end results show the distance by which the fields of mathematics and art have grown apart, but by working together the possibility for new inspiring insights arises in both fields.
There is a deep sympathy between the fields of mathematics and the arts and, while the subject matter is fascinating and compelling, in many ways the collaboration itself has become the true fruit of their labors.
Satyan Devadoss is a professor of mathematics at Williams College and holds a PhD from the Johns Hopkins University. He is an inaugural Fellow of the American Mathematical Society and recipient of numerous teaching awards. He has authored research articles on topics ranging from origami and cartography to phylogenetics and physics, attracting support from the National Science Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, the Mellon Foundation and the Department of Defense. He has held visiting positions at Ohio State, UC Berkeley and Stanford, along with invitations to Google, Pixar and LucasFilm. Underneath a mathematical framework lies a strong desire for the proper visualization of information, from drawings to graphics to photography.
Owen Schuh was born in 1982 in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. He studied fine arts and philosophy at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, graduating with honors in 2004. He went on to receive his MFA from The Tyler School of Art in 2007 and completed his final year of study in Rome, Italy. He has served as visiting professor of drawing and painting at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and lectured on algorithmic art practices. Owen Schuh draws his inspiration from mathematics and complex organic systems. In particular, he is fascinated by simple sets of well-defined rules that generate unexpectedly intricate and nuanced structures. His work is painstakingly created by hand, using at most the aid of a pocket calculator. He currently resides in San Francisco, California.