Minimal surfaces - artists' views

Funded by the Public Engagement Scheme of the Institutional Strategic Support Fund and the Leverhulme Trust through the International Network, the internationalPub discussion with artists and mathematicians following the Artist presentation event at Attenborough Arts Centre September 2019 research network “Minimal surfaces: integrable systems and visualisation”, lead by Dr Leschke, works on open problems on minimal surfaces. Physically, minimal surfaces arise for example when withdrawing a wire loop from soapy water.

Artists were asked to respond to to the open call on the mathematical research that the network is undertaking: the aim of the project was to investigate how modern research in mathematics, its beauty and its importance, can be communicated to a broader audience. In collaboration with mathematicians and artists we worked to find models for demonstrating how mathematicians work, what problems they work on, which methods are used and what results they obtain. In the area of surface theory, computer graphics already allow to show images of the work, however, the deeper beauty of mathematical surface often appears for a mathematician from its context in mathematics. The question we want to address in this project is how to communicate this deeper understanding of mathematics to non-experts.

We used the topic of the “Finite Topology conjecture”, an open problem in minimal surface theory, for our collaboration. During the residency the artists achieved an understanding of the contents of the conjecture, why it is believed to be true, how mathematicians approach the question and what the obstructions are to fully answer the question.

The first outcomes of this ongoing project were showcased by Lee Allatson and Jenny Hibberd and Andrew Johnston at the artists’ performance evening on 5 September 2019 at the Attenborough Arts Centre. A second artist performance evening featuring all four artists, including Chloe Aligianni, was hosted at the Henry Wellcome Atrium and Lecture Theatre on 3 October 2019.

Following on from the success of this artist residency project we will go on to devise further projects where we can work with artists and deliver further outcomes. See our blog for updates.