Thursday, February 27 2020


Visual installation rethinks math sheets

Update: July, 25/2014 - 09:58

Clear proof: People go zig-zagging through sheets of silk to look closer at the embroidered numbers and sketches. — VNS Photo Le Huong

HA NOI (VNS) — A unique get together between world famous Vietnamese mathematician Ngo Bao Chau and visual artist Ly Hoang Ly has ended up in a display in downtown Ha Noi.

Ngo Bao Chau is a Vietnamese mathematician at the University of Chicago, best known for helping prove something known as the "fundamental lemma" . This achievement was described in Time magazine as one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2009. In 2010, Chau was awarded the Fields medal - a mathematical "Nobel Prize" - for his contribution.

In a small Ha Noi room lit with yellow bulbs in the corners of the floor, visitors' eyes are attracted to dozens of rectangular sheets of white silk hanging from the middle of the room.

Zig-zagging through the sheets enables people to look closer at numbers and sketches embroidered on the silk, the central pieces of an installation titled Faithfully Flat, which is a mathematic term Chau acquired at Chicago University earlier this year.

"Like a screw attaching objects together, Faithfully Flat reflects the origins of transformed categories of mathematical problems," Chau says.

Ly says Faithfully Flat is combined from pieces torn out of cultures, history and human knowledge.

Earlier this year, she attended Chau's lessons at Chicago University for three months and was inspired by all the high-level mathematics Chau had written on the board. She sketched two hours a day, two days a week.

"I did not understand anything," Ly says. "I just simply noted what Professor Chau wrote on the board.

Chau was invited to interact in the project by correcting what Ly had created by using tinfoil to mark the proper positions for his mathematical notations. Sometimes, when he did not understand what she had done, he simply added a "smiley face" or question marks to the work.

"This way, the mathematician created his own form of abstract poetry," Ly says.

The joint works by the artist and mathematician were then sent to embroiderers, who once more transformed the paintings in their own ways. They embroidered the language with silver and black thread on thin sheets of white silk.

"In this third stage, mathematic language was transformed once again," Ly says. "Although Chau, the embroiderers and myself may not understand one another, we still combine together in the exhibition."

Chau confessed that he did not understand Ly's intentions at first. He just let her do what she wanted, but admits he was later impressed by her courage.

"For me, mathematics and arts are close to each other because they both use the brain to experience and understand."

Christophe Crespelle, a mathematics researcher from France said he considered the silk sheets with sketches were highly aesthetic.

"You don't have to understand the mathematics on the sheet," he says. "The sheets with embroidered writing look like paintings already."

Ly was born in Ha Noi and graduated from HCM City Fine Art University in 1999, then received a Fulbright scholarship to study MA degree on arts at Chicago University. She has displayed installation works and performed arts at various exhibitions in and outside the country. She also composes poetry.

The installation work is on display at the Vietnam Institute for Advanced Study in Mathematics, 7th Floor, Ta Quang Buu Library, No 1 Dai Co Viet Street, until August 6.

Also on display are books from the School of Art Institute in Chicago, and the Codex Seraphinianus, an illustrated encyclopedia of an imaginary world. — VNS

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