Math Artist Celebrates Pi Day

This article is one in a series linking art and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)

John Sims, quilted self portraitMath and art became definitively connected in the IRAAA when mathematician turned math artist John Sims guest edited the “Rhythm of Structure” issue of the journal in 2004.

Introduction to Square Roots exhibitionA nerd from the hood,  Sims can dance just as good as he can count.  He demonstrates both skills on a music video that he issued on the occasion of Pi Day falling on March 14, this year: 3-14-15.  Those digits are significant because they correspond to the Pi equation: Pi = 3.14159.... (the dots indicate that the numbers continue on).  This equation for the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter is the never repeating constant that has intrigued mystics and mathematicians alike for centuries.

While this number may live in the mathematical space, it captures the attention of millions of people worldwide on Pi Day and this year it was especially special.  March 14, 2015 = 3.14159.…almost! I guess we're supposed to overlook the "9" and the continuing numbers. Anyway, for the math innumerate (illiterate), the question remains: Why exactly is this equation so intriguing?*  

John Sims, Pi QuiltPi Day was started in 1988 by the physicist Larry Shaw at San Francisco's Exploratorium science museum. The original event featured reading of the Pi digits, marching around in circles, and eating fruit pies. In 2009, the House of Representatives passed a resolution designating March 14, as National Pi Day. The resolution encourages educators to observe the day with activities that teach students about Pi and engage them in math. And since then Pi Day has become an international event.

John Sims Pi Dresses and video installationIn response to this unique 3-14-15 moment, John Sims produced a three-track CD called, 31415: The Pi Collection. The first track on the CD is the breakout single, 31415: The Pi Day Anthem, featuring John Sims and mathmusician Vi Hart.  This is the track that was made into the music video dance piece combining the spoken digits of binary Pi over house beats. It concludes with the math rappers steppin' to the groove. The other two tracks on the CD are Squaremoon: A Binary Pi, and Bluepi: The Sigma Remix

John Sims, African textile quiltAs a backdrop to the Pi Day events, Sims also is exhibiting a Pi-themed exhibition, Square Roots: A Quilted Manifesto, at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota Fine Art Gallery, Jan. 23 to March 28, 2015. The show includes mathart quilts designed by Sims and made in collaboration with Amish quilters, Pi-based dresses designed by the artist and his Pi music.

John Sims as J. C. SchwazensteinThe strangest thing about this math happy exhibition which can be viewed here is a video in which Sims portrays Johannes Curtis Schwazenstein. In what looks like flickering, crumbling, old, film footage, Schwazenstein introduces the Afro German Math Art project. He says that the project presents “the square truth” to show connections between all our stories but his speaking style and demeanor seem straight from the Gestapo — a weirdly fascinating affectation.

Detroit native John Sims is a multi-disciplinary mathartist who creates multimedia projects in the areas of visual mathematics, art, text and political activism. As the former coordinator of mathematics at Ringling College Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, he designed a visual mathematics curriculum for artists and visual thinkers. Sims has John Sims, Pi Quiltscurated more than 15 mathematical art exhibitions including the exhibition/film project, Rhythm of Structure: Bowery and Beyond, which featured over 75 artists and poets.

— Juliette Harris

*Re: why exactly is this equation so intriguing?  This New York Times article, On Pi Day Celebrate Math's Enigmas, provides some insights.