Sarah Stengle

Stengle Studio
Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA

I have long been drawn to non-numerical types of mathematics with a visual component, such as geometry, topology, nearest neighbor problems, Voronoi partition-patterns, traveling salesmen problems, space-filling patterns and Lissajous curves. I began working with mathematics in my art 25 years ago by using reaction-diffusion patterns in sequential drawings. I collect and make mechanical devices for producing mathematical figures or introducing mathematical elements into my work. This year I made a simple but rather large double pendulum in my garage, for example. The immediacy and irregularity of doing things in the real world by hand or mechanically, rather than digitally, provides a human quality that is important to me.

40 x 30 cm
Ink and collage on blue paper

Virtuosa features butterflies following a Lissajous curve created mechanically with a large double pendulum. The central image is of Emily Barton, a piano prodigy. Playing the piano creates complex harmonic sounds, and Lissajous curves record complex harmonic motion. Lissajous curves may be modeled with parametric equations or produced mechanically with twinned pendulums. Pendulums mark time and motion, and the lines created evoke time passing. Butterflies are a symbol of death in Gnostic art and many non-Western traditions because they transfigure themselves. Most of the species of butterflies in this image are now extinct. Virtuosa is both a portrait of an intelligent young woman lost to time and a mathematical memento mori.