[News from NYC] Mathematical poetry animates storefront window

You would be forgiven for simply walking right by An Aquarium of Equations, rushing past this discreet installation in a narrow storefront space at 266 West 37th Street in Midtown Manhattan, as you struggle to find your footing through the slush and proceed toward shelter from the falling snow. And yet, every once in a while, some random passer-by actually slows down and stops to peer inside.

The main attraction is a postage-stamp projection on a sidewalk-to-ceiling window: a computer animation programmed to visualize the variable expressions of the 18th century cardioid equation. Parametrically designed by mathematics researcher Guang Zhu as a poetic illustration of her thesis “The Parametric Courante”, the gently pulsing curves are vaguely reminiscent of a jellyfish—especially to those of us who have not dipped our feet in geometric trigonometry since high school.

But Guang is undeterred by the almost mystic obscurity of her work to viewers unfamiliar with her research. “They may not be able to connect all the dots, but at least the dots are there,” she says. Meanwhile, square particles of light seem to twinkle and flurry inside the tiny aquatic box, like a cosmic, insular snow globe mocking the very real snow piling up on the pavement.

In Taoism, says Guang, what may be real inside your mind cannot be represented in reality. Her artwork, however, can tend toward an esthetic and emotional expression of the beauty she finds in her mathematical exploration and experimentations with sine and cosine waveforms.

Poetic computing is further exposed on the glass above the animation, in the form of a printout of her customized Processing script, right beside her more passer-by-friendly poem:

They are equations.
The world flies around them like a dragonfly.
Diminishing their temperature.
A flat land with no dream of desires.
They love.
They calculate.
And I stopped the rhythm of breathing.
Inhale exhale.
Inhale exhale.
Like a micro organism.
And these are them.
Mathematical functions.
Too abstract to communicate.
Too real to live.

If the intangible, digital code and curves are too abstract to communicate, the fine artist in Guang also teases us with a very tactile, minimalist installation of two opposing music stands positioned deeper within the v-shaped space. Two voices, twin scores, paired movements, counterpointed melodies? As with the complementary identities of sine and cosine, the music is in the mind, and always open to interpretation.

Photo by Guang Zhu.

For her first solo exhibition, the 28-year-old native of China’s remote Ningxia province, daughter and granddaughter of professional architects, accomplished pianist, former fine arts student, experimental filmmaker, ITP graduate and internationally recognized math researcher Guang Zhu is still testing the water before deep diving into the art world. After this pop-up store window aquarium in the heart of New York City closes, who knows where she will resurface next?

Photo by Lance Liu

Guang Zhu
An Aquarium of Equations

through February 9, 2014

Cherise Fong