Certain contemporary artists are currently working with number and mathematics in ways which imply less that the world can be explained solely by number, but that it is a way of interpreting the world and calling into question the sovereignty of systems over randomness.
Although it might seem that numbers transcend all discourse based in language, mathematics is itself a language to which only the numerate have access and familiarity. Number-based information is constantly being translated into other forms so it can be accessed and consumed by relatively innumerate users: in digital communication data is translated into a spatial arrangement of 1s and 0s which are retranslated on demand. These processes are usually invisible but the work in this exhibition highlights the ubiquity of the digital and numerological in everyday life and in art , whether as medium, tool or subject matter and raises questions about technology, time and the systems through which we seek to explain phenomena. In contemporary life, in ways unforeseen by Pythagoras, everything is number.
Tatsuo Miyajima’s room installation of digital counters slowly advance from 1 to 99 and repeat, at the same time sending a message to another counter which begins counting from 1. The work suggests the relationship of the one to the whole and, the relationship between solitude and connection and makes us acknowledge our desire for a system, to make sense of these ever changing numbers. As Miyajima states “They appear to be calculated logically because ‘surely’, we think, ‘there must be a logic’. But they are calculated illogically, and so we might try not to impose a logic on them”
Luke Jerram’s commissioned work Matrix uses the biological and psychological principles of the retinal after-image to produce a geometric matrix of spheres in the mind of the viewer. During the experience the viewers eyes both construct, then erode the form. Our brain automatically organises lines of objects which converge or become smaller are into a mathematical grid of three dimensions; parts are organised into wholes.
Tony Kemplen’s commissioned work The End refers to the date which has been calculated as the end of the world. Scientists believe the world will end 1000000000000 years from now. Nine domestic light timers in sequence are set to illuminate a sign as the universe expires.
Lucy Kimbell’s Software That Outputs A Voice That Starts With A Very Large Number And Counts Down To A Very Small Number recalls the familiar countdowns of rocket launches or new year celebrations but the culmination is so distant as to be difficult to imagine. The piece is sited in the gallery and also on Sheffield train station.
In Andrew Kearney’s work Thread red and green digital counters record the passing of human life, rather than the passing of time, the purpose for which they are most often recognised. The piece listens to the space, counting in numbers the activity that takes place.
Paul William Mulvihill’s work Simple Harmonic Motion reveals the binary coding that constantly streams around us. Mechanisms responding to binary coded data resonate the top of a wine glass producing a sound which is the direct translation of a quote by composer Arvo Part into sound, voicing the constant translation between numerical codes and languages which goes in invisibly in everyday life.
Pythagoras realised that numbers were hidden in everything, from the harmonies of music to the orbits of the planets, and this led him to proclaim that “everything is number”. By exploring the meaning of mathematics, Pythagoras was developing the language which would enable him and others to describe the nature of the universe. (Fermat’s Last Theorem, Simon Singh, Fourth Estate, 1997)