Margaret Wertheim                       

Making Space at Mount Wilson: An Exploration of Concepts of Space in Mathematics and Cosmology, 2017
Seminar and Workshop
Exhibition location: Astronomical Museum
Photo credit: Eden Batki, Brica Wilcox

Making Space at Mount Wilson: An Exploration of Concepts of Space in Mathematics and Cosmology:
What does it mean to say something has 2 dimensions, or 3? Einstein’s general theory of relativity describes our universe as having 4 dimensions, while string theory says we live in a 10 or 11-dimensional space. In modern mathematics and cosmology “space” is a foundational concept, but what do scientists mean by this term? And what are the “dimensions” they speak about here? At Mount Wilson, Hubble discovered that space is expanding, and around black holes space stretches. How can we understand such statements? In this two-part event, science writer and artist Margaret Wertheim led a seminar about the history of scientific and mathematical concepts of space, followed by a participatory workshop where participants will explore non-Euclidean geometry by constructing paper models of hyperbolic space.

Session One: Seminar:
Here we discussed the history of Western concepts of space from Dante to string theory, via Descartes, Newton, Einstein and Kaluza-Klein ideas.
Session Two: Workshop:
Here we constructed paper models of non-Euclidean spaces.

Margaret Wertheim is an internationally noted writer, artist and curator whose work focuses on relations between science and the wider cultural landscape. The author of six books, including The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace and Physics on the Fringe, she has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Aeon, Cabinet and many others. With her sister Christine, she has established the collaborative practice-based Institute For Figuring, an endeavor devoted to the “poetic and aesthetic dimensions of science and mathematics.” Through the IFF, she has created exhibitions for the Hayward Gallery (London), Science Gallery (Dublin), Art Center College of Design (Pasadena), and Mass MoCA (USA). By inviting audiences to play with ideas, the IFF offers a radical interweaving of math, science and art that is at once intellectually rigorous and aesthetically aware.

The Wertheim sister’s “Crochet Coral Reef” project is now the largest participatory science-and-art endeavor in the world. It has been shown at the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), New York University Abu Dhabi (UAE), the Smithsonian (Washington D.C.), and the Museum of Arts and Design (NY). Through an unlikely conjunction of handicraft and geometry, the Crochet Reef offers a window into the foundations of mathematics while also addressing climate change. Donna Haraway has called the work “palpable, polymorphous, terrifying and inspiring stitchery.” Wertheim’s TED talk on the project has been viewed over a million times and translated into 20 languages.