Borders to Canvasses (Devil’s Mountain III)

The interior of the four-story building that supports the domes of the former Cold War listening station on the Devil’s Mountain in Berlin is accessible only through two (new) exterior stairwells. Each has a long corridor (without any doors!), and open spaces separated by walls.

Most of the walls are decorated with the most wonderful graffiti in bright colors.

The entire building has become a piece of art.

Views through the ‘windows’ show more building-sized graffitis.

So in a miraculous way, one of the most secretive and locked up places from Cold War Berlin has become an organic landscape of open art.

If only we all could deal with our own borders like this.

Otherness (Sanssouci I)

Frederick the Great’s summer residence Sanssouci features a vast park with all kinds of interesting buildings and sculptures.

Uncommon plants, angels, truncated heads, fauns – all in some form of isolation, for individual contemplation, and all with a sense of esthetic that is not quite our own anymore – suggest that Frederick consciously made an attempt to deal with the Other, the unfamiliar, the strange and alien.

The Chinese Pavilion gives an idea of the sophistication of other cultures, using a sense of beauty that was his — not necessarily theirs.

Then a rondel with six busts, a Roman emperor, a philosopher, and four Africans, in rich dresses and again with an assuring beauty.
Insufficient as this is, this maybe is a way to give the Otherness presence through beauty, a way which we have lost, it seems, sadly.


When looking itself has become an aggression, isn’t it necessary to see even the familiar differently, to unlearn our sense of beauty, and to begin again, by offering presence?

Light

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Darkness is for us humans not just the lack of light. We fear it as an abstraction, as a general absence, as death. 

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And so we have to come to adore light as that what eradicates darkness, that makes us see, and allows us to live.

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Nothing more seems to celebrate light better than illuminated glass sculptures like the ones here, by Dale Chihuly.

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Having lost its purpose to illuminate something else, light has become the object, an abstraction of its purpose.

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Objects like these don’t exist in nature. It is, as if we have finally left reality behind and can experience light as pure form.

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It is hard to return.

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He Will Arrive, Because He Said So (Wenckheim VI)

What could possibly go wrong? Baron Wenckheim has returned, and his main desire is to meet the love of his youth, who is eagerly expecting him.

In Photography, we typically expect what’s important to be in focus.

Krasznahorkai’s prose, however, has a shallow depth of field, and often the blurry part is where we should look.

Right at his arrival at the train station, Baron Wenckheim walks right beside her, himself a victim of this looking elsewhere: … he just went beside her like a sleepwalker,…

When Wenckheim finally meets Marika (or Marietta, as he remembers her name), the misfocus becomes extreme: He doesn’t grasp that she has aged, too, and takes her for her mother or aunt: …yes, he thought there is a resemblance there, he wouldn’t say that Marietta had completely inherited the traits of this lady, still, though, there were in her face and in her bearing a few minor characteristics that connected them,

Dialogue between the two becomes impossible, but Wenckheim’s more and more devastating monologue is not without effect: …and she wasn’t trembling, although she knew that soon she would be, but for the time being she was still in that state in which a person simultaneously grasps and refutes what has just happened,…

In photography, the object in front of the lens can be so much out of focus that it becomes part of the optical system through which everything else is perceived. Focus becomes secondary.

Upset about Marika’s absence, Wenckheim talks to her about his deep love to her, and she listens with growing desperation. — he saw no other way than to speak to her, in the most sincere way possible, of his most sacred feelings;… 

… and he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out the photograph from an envelope, he handed it to her saying, please have a look, Madame, and see how beautiful she is, and Marika bowed her head and she looked at the photograph, she looked and she looked, then she couldn’t bear to look anymore, …

He Wrote To Me (Wenckheim IV)

Old Baron Wenckheim is returning. Hidden behind the noisy preparations of his home town to welcome him and his expected fortune, the third chapter of Krasznahorkai’s novel includes a more delicate dialogue in form of a letter Wenckheim wrote to Marika, the love of his youth, and her brief but intense reply.

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… she was an old lady, there was no embellishing that, so that what could they expect, she just sat there bent over the postcard, she looked at the three words, and tears came to her eyes, and somehow her back became even more hunched, her two shoulders fell forward,…

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How do we communicate across time? How do we talk to someone whom we have long forgotten, or maybe even never met? I keep quoting Paul Celan, who compared poems to messages in a bottle, sent off with the hope that they will eventually be washed ashore at heartland.

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Marika’s emotional breakdown while responding to Wenckheim is contrasted with the nervous breakdown of the entire city that is afraid of making costly mistakes:

…because that moment, everywhere in the town, had somehow shattered apart, everything came to a halt, from fear, to a dead stop because of the fear which had swept across the city,…

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The dialogue between a town and its visitors is not necessarily doomed. New Harmony manages to talk to the visitors to various works of public art, some immensely popular like its labyrinths or the Roofless Church, others well hidden like the installation of 20 tableaus of writing from the Kcymaerxthaere project, which are slowly eroding away.

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But it’s not enough that words are being written, they also need to be read.

Praise of the Shadow

… and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house.

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I usually prefer the early hours for taking pictures, and avoid the harsh daylight.

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But light allows to objectify darkness, in form of a shadow.

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Sometimes it’s not so much the question what creates the shadow on the wall, but what lies behind the wall.

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The interior (if there is one) should allow cause and effect to coexist.

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Light and shadow are folded together.

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But the gate is always open, which means that ultimately we have to leave again.

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Absence (10mm II)

Hisham Matar’s autobiographic book The Return talks about his father’s absence.

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The image above show the Voided Void at the end of the Axis of Holocaust in Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin. 

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Matar quotes Aristoteles: The theory that the void exists involves the existence of place: for one would define void as place bereft of body.

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Right now, the museum is being prepared for a new standard exhibition, and hence almost completely void.

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Matar continues to reflect about Aristoteles. He adds: He says nothing of time here, and time is surely part of it all, of how we try to accommodate the absence. […]. Only time can hope to fill the void. The body of my father is gone, but his place is here and occupied by something that cannot just be called memory.

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A second accessible void in the Libeskind building is the Memory Void, containing Menashe Kadishman’s installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves).

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Matar concludes this reflection: What is extraordinary is that, given everything that has happened, the natural alignment of the heart remains towards the light.

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New Eden (New Harmony IV)

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Nested among a garden of fruit trees next to the Roofless Church in New Harmony is another sculpture by Stephen de Staebler, the Angel of Annunciation, which is easy to overlook, despite its tallness.

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A small plaque on the church wall nearby quotes a poem by Staedler that states that arms are for doing, while wings are for being.DSC 1886

This angel is deeply conflicted. The arm sticks out of his head like the wings. The head itself, whose face is just recognizable as such from the side, is split in half when viewed from the front.

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One of the two feet is cemented in, the other free to walk. Where does this leave us?

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There is another sculpture in this garden, without plaque or any indication of authorship: A piece of wood, hanging from a tree.

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It’s not a sculpture. It’s what is left over from binding the branches of an aging tree together to keep it from breaking and falling apart. An attempt can never completely be a failure. Doing and being can still be one.

Noli turbare circulos meos! (Annuli VII)

In science, our goal should always be to present with clarity. Since the discovery of perspective drawings, a realistic representation of 3-dimensional objects has become almost mandatory. However, very often these objects have an appeal beyond their scientific truth which gets lost if its is shown in full clarity.

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This blog has two series of posts titled “Spheres” and “Annuli” that both showcase images of simple 3-dimensional mathematical objects which deliberately forsake clarity in order to convey that other appeal. While accurate perspective renderings are used, the  perspective and textures are chosen as to emphasize the abstract aspect. 

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The example above shows a triply orthogonal system of surfaces. An easy way to create such a system is by taking a doubly orthogonal system of curves in the plane, revolve them about a common axis to obtain two families of surfaces of revolution that intersect orthogonally, and add all planes through the axis of revolution. For instance, we can choose two families of touching circles that pass through a common point, as above.

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A single circle, rotated about the black axis, will revolve into a torus. To spice things up, let’s apply an inversion at a sphere centered at the intersection of the circles. This turns the tori into special cyclids like the one above, which all have the appearance of a plane with a handle. Using both a red and a green circle will invert-revolve in two such cyclids that intersect in a straight line and a circle:

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These are still attempts of realistic drawings, but we already get the feeling that things aren’t completely evident anymore. For instance, the two cyclids above should be equals: but where did the corresponding red handle go?

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Above is the same pair of objects from a different perspective. Now we can see the two handles and the intersection in a line, but where is the intersection circle? Also, where do we need to place the third surface family, which consists of inverted planes, i.e. spheres? The answer to that question is indicated below.

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Other perspectives allow amusing variations:

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For the top image, I have used several cyclids from each family, and several spheres, clipping them between two planes. To appreciate the image, all this knowledge might be irrelevant. To create it, it is essential.

 

Fold Me!

Last year, Jiangmei Wu and I worked on some infinite polyhedra that can be folded into two different planes. Today, you get the chance to make your own (finite version of it). This is a simple craft that, time and energy permitting, will be featured at a fundraiser for the WonderLab here in Bloomington. You will need 3 (7 for the large version) sheets of card stock, scissors, a ruler and craft knife for scoring, and plenty of tape. A cup of intellectually satisfying tea will help, as always. 

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Begin by downloading the template, print the first three pages onto card stock, and cut the shapes out as above.  Lightly score the shapes along the dashed and dot-dashed line, and valley and mountain fold along them.  Note that there are lines that switch between mountain and valley folds, but all folds are easy to do.

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The letters come into play next. Tape the edges with the same letters together. Begin with the smaller yellow shape, and complete the two halves of the larger blue shapes, but keep them separate for a moment, like so:

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Stick the yellow piece into one of the blue halves, this time matching the digits. Complete the generation 2 fractal by taping the second blue half to the yellow generation 1 fractal and the other blue half.

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This object can be squeezed together in two different planes. Ideal for people who can’t keep their hands to themselves. 

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The next 2 pages of the template repeat the first three without the markings, if you’d like to build a cleaner model. You then need two printouts of page 5. The last page allows you to add on and build the generation 3 fractal. You need 4 printouts. 

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Cut, score, and fold as shown above.

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Again, tape edges together as before. There are no letters here, but the pattern is the same as before. Finally, wiggle the generation 2 fractal into the new orange frame, as you did before with the yellow piece into the blue piece.

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Here is how they now grow in our backyard. If anybody is willing to make a  generation 4 or higher versions of this, please send images.

All these polyhedra have as boundary  just a simple closed curve. Topologists will enjoy figuring out the genus.