Countless generations of students have been traumatized by their mathematics and geometry classes to the point that, as grown-ups, they simply started avoiding anything containing the dreaded words.

Yet, in previous posts we have seen the power of mathematical equations in art and fashion, the importance of galleries dedicated to maths in museums and of precise mathematical proportions in patterns.

It is undeniable that mathematical ideas have proved very inspiring for many contemporary artists, architects, and fashion designers: in the last few years, we have seen designers creating clever examples of "Math couture", at times based on mathematical or geometrical concepts such as the Fibonacci series or the Navier Stokes equations, or we searched for inspirations in basic mathematical tools like cuisenaire rods, while in yesterday's post we explored the power of variable geometries in a choreography.

Readers who enjoyed those posts will be happy to hear that there is a new exhibition at the Mathematical Institute in Oxford dedicated to Conrad Shawcross that invites visitors to delve into the world of mathematics and geometries. Curated by Fatoş Üstek, "Cascading Principles: Expansions within Geometry, Philosophy, and Interference" (until 8th October 2023), features more than thirty-five sculptures made by the artist over the last seventeen years.

On display across three floors, the artworks try to build relationships and correspondences, dialoguing with the spaces where they are installed, from the reception area to the study and lecture space.

Moving from scientific thought, Shawcross combines in his sculptures, mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Some of his favourite themes seem to be the nature of matter, the relativity of gravity, entropy, and the nature of time itself. While he is an artist, Shawcross works like a scientist in a laboratory, conceiving each work as an experiment.

Often multiplication and repetition allow him to build monumental pieces: moving from a single essential unit, the artist creates large pieces. But, while an atom or electron is a basic unit for physicists, his unit is often the tetrahedron, which in his practice is considered as an artistic building block.

A tetrahedron cannot tessellate with itself, it can't fit together with others of its kind without creating gaps and overlapping, and cannot cover or form a surface through its repetition.

This principle is perfectly demonstrated by Shawcross's "Schisms" consising of twenty tetrahedrons assembled together to form a near-perfect polygonal form. The result is a spherical form split by deep chasms and cracks that pervade the surface. Behind this failed struggle for perfection there are different implied meanings, pointing at the theme of failure in geometry and therefore at the fact that the sculpture can not be used as a scientific model, yet its geometrical failure turns it into an intriguing artwork (so here you have an interesting theme that you can expand on - finding success in failure).

Shawcross continued his investigation into the geometry of the tetrahedron with his "Lattices": some of them are irregular exploded cubic structures forming a system which in theory can expand forever, while his "Paradigm" series follows mathematical logic and a rate of incrementation.

Built as a spiraling stack of tetrahedral steel blocks that increase in size by a set percentage at every twist, his "Paradigms" grow from the smallest unit, bearing the weight of the others stacked above it. Shawcross's "Fractures", again based on the dogma of the tetrahedron, are expansions composed of hundreds of delicate geometric leaves that move from his "Paradigms".

Shawcross's "Perimeter Studies" explore the geometry and spatial properties of the Platonic solids - the tetrahedron, cube, octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron - to consider notions of expansion, entropy, growth, and retraction.

There are shapes and configurations that fashion and jewellery designers will find inspiring, while fans of patterns should check out the "Patterns of Absence" and "Beacons", works that are akin to stained glass windows, activated by back light. Composed of two counterrotating discs covered in complex perforations, "The Patterns of Absence" are wall mounted and lit by a bespoke radiant light, whereas the "Beacons" stand on their own and are activated by the sky behind them, but in both cases the works pattern the light through the non-repeating pattern of holes.

"Cascading Principles: Expansions within Geometry, Philosophy, and Interference" will be accompanied by a four-part symposium, with events taking place throughout the year of the exhibition (check out the Oxford Mathematics events page for updates about them). The most exciting thing about the symposium is that scholars and researchers from Oxford Mathematics will be paired with artists and philosophers for talks that will foster cross-fertilisation of thought and creativity.

So, are you still afraid of maths and geometry? Well, you shouldn't, after all even in a simple everyday gesture like drinking a glass of water there is some geometry as the H2O water molecule has a distorted tetrahedral geometry. So, forget the fears and anxieties instilled in you by a failed educational system and delve into a world of new dimensions led by Shawcross's inspiring tetrahedons.

*Image credits for this post*

*Conrad Shawcross, Perimeter Study (Arrangement 5), 2019*

*Conrad Shawcross, Formation Study I (The Dappled Light of The Sun), 2016*

*Conrad Shawcross, Schism, 2019*

*Conrad Shawcross, Lattice Cube, 2008*

*Conrad Shawcross, Patterns of Absence "O", 2021*

*Conrad Shawcross, Fracture (R24W4), 2018*

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