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Press Archive

October 28- November 3 2005


Hyperbolic Planes Take Off

Think the world is all straight lines and points and spheres? Think again. Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s Institute for Figuring will show you that the world is also hyperbolic. The institute is the primary home of Cornell mathematician Daina Taimina’s hyperbolic crochet pieces. In 1997, Taimina figured out a way to make durable, easy-to-handle physical models of a mind-bending kind of space called hyperbolic space: She would crochet them. In a hyperbolic plane, the surface curves away from itself at every point. Scientists had been pasting together paper triangles to demonstrate hyperbolic geometry ever since it was discovered in the early 1800s. Paper constructions were fragile, difficult to make and easily torn. But Taimina’s crocheted models are an elegant solution to a long-standing problem. Lately, Taimina, who learned traditional handicrafts as a child in her native Latvia, and the Wertheims — also avid knitters/crocheters — have been turning out the hyperbolic models like hotcakes. The models’ growth has been exponential, both literally and figuratively. Since the IFF’s exhibit at Machine Gallery in Echo Park in August, the institute has been invited to stage five shows next year, and art patron Eileen Norton has even commissioned a series of them for her personal collection. Pieces range from 4 inches to 2 feet in diameter and look like blue lettuce, or orange sea kelp, or the pink scrunchies that cheerleaders use to tie up their ponytails. In addition to being mathematically accurate, they’re colorful, fun to play with and cute in a complex way. A perfect match for the institute’s mandate to elucidate the aesthetics and poetics of scientific thought. “That it took something as simple as female handicrafts to make the most abstract science visible,” says institute founder (and Weekly science columnist) Margaret Wertheim, “is the beautiful thing about them.” We couldn’t agree more. (Gendy Alimurung)

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Photo by Anitra Menning

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