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Bridges 2015: Highlights of the Conference on Mathematics Connections in Art, Music, and Science

The 2015 international conference of Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music and Science was held at University of Baltimore, Maryland, July 29-August 1. The venue, John and Frances Angelos Law Center, was a stunning example of architectural space filled with natural light and geometric features.

"The mission of the Bridges Organization and of this conference is to expose, discuss, and popularize the many connections between mathematics and other elements of art and culture, including fine arts, architecture, music, dance, poetry, origami, puzzles, and the sciences." --- The Bridges Organization Board of Directors


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The conference drew over 300 mathematicians, scientists, artists, educators, musicians, poets, computer scientists, sculptors, dancers, weavers and model builders from around the world. The program included plenary talks, sessions, workshops, art exhibition, performances, a Family Day, and exhibits. The American Mathematical Society provided the 2016 Calendar of Mathematical Imagery, posters, and information on Mathematical Imagery, and the AMS book, Art in the Life of Mathematicians, to the participants.

The Bridges 2015 Proceedings include 43 regular papers, 47 short papers, and 14 workshop papers. "A wide range of topics are explored in this publication; you will find new work on fractals, patterns, poetry, polyhedra, weaving, origami, sculpture, visualization, image processing, outreach and education, and more. Also, you will find papers in which authors describe the novel ways they are exploring the connections between culture and mathematics: we have a virtual reality game where a player explores 4-dimensional polytopes by changing the orientation of their head in 3-space, a workshop that gives participants a gustatory experience of ratios and sequences, and perhaps the first ever collaboration between a computer scientist and a cowboy."


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The Art Exhibition included works by some of the session presenters, and Towson University Art Gallery also showed works in conjunction with the Bridges 2015 conference (see video). See also: "Bridges 2015: a meeting of maths and art - in pictures," by Alex Bellos, The Guardian, 30 July 2015; Andrea Hawksley's blog Bridges Math Art 2015; and follow @BridgesMathArt on Twitter to see tweets from participants during the conference and other posts by and for the math and arts community.

Keynote Speakers

John H. Conway was going to talk about "the symmetries of things" but changed his mind and talked extemporaneously--without any Powerpoint or whiteboard--about the magic square in Dürer's Melencolia engraving. Ingrid Daubechies talked about "Mathematicians Helping Art Historians and Art Conservators," showing many examples. She hopes that Platypus software in beta testing now will be used by others. Gwen Fisher, founder of beAD Infinitum, showed her fabulous "Genie Bottle" structure with mathematics made for the Burning Man Festival, and some of her intricately woven beads. Alan Kay presented "Arts of the Hidden." He said "what's cool is our imagination." So much is hidden and yet to be discovered--or uncovered--that we need to build bridges. He noted that Montessori said children will learn even what they don't want to learn if it is embedded in the culture.

"Art can be a process, not a product. It's not ours to own." -- Gwen Fisher

There were so many fascinating concurrent sessions that it was a difficult to choose which to attend. This report gives just a taste of some of the many highlights of the wide-ranging, stimulating and congenial conference, along with some slideshows to give a glimpse of the beauty and mathematical substance of the presentations.

Norma Boakes taught us modular origami as she does her undergraduate students; Lynn Bodner enlightened us about curved Islamic star patterns of medieval Egpyt and Syria; Carol Dorf gave a presentation on on composing mathematical poetry; Douglas Dunham explained fractal wallpaper patterns; Frank Farris presented beautiful creative symmetries; Robert Fathauer showed organic, inorganic and synthetic tessellations in the "real world"; Loe Feijs illustrated the mathematics behind houndstooth designs on clothing; Gary Greenfield illustrated self-avoiding walks yielding labyrinths; George Hart showed videos and brought examples of laser-cut plywood and cable-tie sculptures assembled by groups at "barnraisings"; Craig Kaplan showed examples of origami, seashells and digital half-toning to create portraits and other images; Kerry Mitchell showed us fun with whirls; Mike Naylor made "Math Bugs," cool little creatures that are made from sets of curves that represent factorial multiplication within modulo bases; Siobhan Roberts told us what it was like to write a biography of the creative John Conway (he interjected some comments about being the subject of a book); Rinus Roelofs offered animations of elevated tiling patterns; Carlo Séquin examined 2-manifold sculptures; David Swart showed symmetries on soccer balls (and juggled a few). These were just some of the dynamic presenters who inspired, informed, and often amused.

"I'm not a mathematician, but I'm a craftsman who uses math to create my works." -- overheard on the bus to Bridges

There was a mathematical poetry reading with Sarah Glaz, Emily Grosholz, Marion Deutsche Cohen, Carol Dorf, JoAnne Growney, Gizem Karaali, Alice Major, Kaz Maslanka, Mike Naylor, Deanna Nikaido and Eveline Pine, wtih an open mic opportunity for those who wanted to read.

MSRI sponsored "The Mathematics of Being Human," a play by Michele Osherow and Manil Suri, and Steve Abbott organized an evening of theater performed by Bridges participants. Evelyn Lamb led a workshop, "Hearing Math and Seeing Music," and Vi Hart and friends led a musical evening. Pythagorean Trio Karl Schaffer, Saki and Laurel Shastri performed dance, and Tim and Tanya Chartier performed Mime-Matics. The Bridges Short Movie Festival, presented by Robert Bosch, was true "eye candy."

See the program schedule and Proceedings with papers.


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Family Day at Bridges 2015, organized by Kristof Fenyvesi.

The annual Bridges conference is a wonderful example of an interdisciplinary gathering at which all the participants openly share their tools, findings and works. The 2015 conference organizers, participants, and the works in the Art Exhibition provided insights and inspiration to all.

There will be a Mathematical Art Exhibition held at the 2016 Joint Mathematics Meetings, January 6-9 in Seattle, WA, and Bridges 2016 will be held August 9-13 at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. We hope to see familiar and new mathematical artists, poets and performers at both events.


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Works by artists in the Bridges 2015 Art Exhibition and Mathematics Art Exhibition at the Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) are on AMS Mathematical Imagery. This slideshow is just a sampling. Visit the website to see hundreds more images in various media.

--- Annette Emerson, AMS Public Awareness Officer


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