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Helsinki Math & Art

Early in August, 2022, Sylvia and I took a trip to Scandinavia. I’d been invited by the Bridges Organization to give a talk at their 2o22 conference at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. Their annual meetings feature talks and demonstrations and exhibits relating to connections between math, art, music, architecture, and culture. Perfect for me. I was slated to give a talk on math, chaos, writing, and paintings. And I took Sylvia along. We spent five days in Helsinki and five days in Stockholm. Many thanks to George Hart, Kirsi Peltonen, Eve Torrence, and the rest of the Bridges crowd.

Our touchingly eager suitcases just before we left. So many hurdles ahead! Onward.

The Helsinki train station, an amazing Art Nouveau structure designed in 1920 by Eliel Saarinen. So nice to see something like this right away. By the way, Eliel was the father of the Eero Saarinen who designed the Dulles airport near Washington DC.

Another big sight in Helsinki is the Lutheran cathedral of 1930. Very understated in decoration, with statues of the twelve apostles on top. I loved the Helsinki streetcars. This is the number 2, which we used a lot, having bought a pass on the first day. So great to be out in a different world. Makes the immense hassle of the air trip fade away.

Planning my talk, I ponder the fact that a 3D left hand can appear to be a right hand when projected into a shadowy Flatland. Not that I mentioned this in my talk. You can see a written draft for the talk on an earlier post. And a video of the actual talk on YouTube.

Sylvia is from Hungary, and the Finnish and Hungarian languages are said to be related. These Finno-Ugric languages are not at all like any of the familiar European languages which are in the Indo-European group, which include the Romance, Slavic, Germanic and other categories. Finnish and Hungarian are total outliers. And, as Sylvia’s expression testifies here, the two are not very much like each other after all. It was fun to see such incomprehensible signs.

Everything very clean and orderly. Like the subway. Taking public transportation is way that we explore the towns we visit, preferring it to tour busses. No narration, but you can figure some of it out.

We always hit the museums and restaurants, but another kind sights to hit are stores. Weirdly they had lots of Marimekko stores, as this is a Finnish company. Here we’re in a mainline department store with Sylvia in a display shoe. I bought a belt here, and was happy to see a “Designed in Finland” label on it.

No idea why there’s a framed pair of scissors. For emergency use in cutting off your necktie?

I’m always looking for patterns of shade and light. Love this 3D grid of shelving.

The Bridges exhibition of math/art objects was very cool. Shown here are some “Closed Surface Envelopes” by Richard Hammack, who found ways to turn envelopes into odd surfaces like Klein bottles and projective planes. You have to look at his paper to understand.

This is a really cool quilt of some mathematical meaning that I don’t quite remember…I hope a knowledgeable reader can fill in this lacuna in my report. And let me mention that I failed to get a photo of Eve Torrence’s lovely seven-cloor toruses, but you can see them in her paper, “Modular Origami Map Coloring Models“.

Thees are David Plaxco’s “Photgenic Knot Projections On n x n x n Rubik’s Cubes.” Of course!

One of my favorite pieces was a handmade book called “Guises of the Penrose Tiling,” sitting on a stand in front of a lovely patterened cloth that Padilla made.

Her conference paper “Penrose Tiling Arrangements of Traditional Islamic Decagonal Motifs” indicates what she’s up to. I love Penrose’s non-repeating tilings. He used to sell a plastic jigsaw puzzle based on them, called Perplexing Poultry, with no “right” way to assemble them. I played with that puzzle a lot over the years, and my SF novel Freeware incorporates a visual add-on perceptual filter you can use to tessellate your surroundings in a tessellated pattern of 3D Perplexing Poultry.

Riding the metro home from the art show, Sylvia and I made our way upstairs the fabulous dining room of that Helsinki Train station. Nouveau paradise.

I’ve got to mention the time. This sunset at about 10 or 10:30 pm. And the dawn breaks at 3:30 am. Jetlagged as we were, we kept snapping awake at 3:30 thinking it was time to get up. But you do not want to up and about at 3:30. That’s the wrath of the gods. I mean, getting up at 5 am to read is okay, or maybe even 4:30, but 3:30? A hard no. We ended up take lots of long naps the first few days.

We could see what looked like a bay from the balcony of our room. I walked down there one morning and found a cemetery, a minigolf course, a fairly grungy beach-like area, and this nice big-toy construction vehicle. Was so interesting to walk at random around a completely strange city where I had not the slightest idea what was going on.

Did these art nouveau pillar-men holding up the building. I think they’re technically called caryatids. We say a lot of them. They always have a towel or rag over their shoulder and the backs of their heads to make things a bit more comfortable.

Inisde a Catholic church was an image of Saul seeing the White Light.

Outside the church some Helsinki freaks had painted a nice image of the White Light seeing Saul. No idea what the underground characters are like in Helsinki. No easy or obvious way in. I’d dreamed of finding some connection to the circles of my Finnish beat poet friend Anselm Hollo, but there wasn’t time to find it.

We rode the trams a lot. Dig this one with the big flowers. Europe so clean and tidy and pleasant. Not everything just built as cheaply as possible.

Spotted some nice deco windows. Helsinki isn’t medieval quaint, but it’s 20s and 30s quaint.

They have a couple of icebreakers they’re proud of. This is the Poalaris. When the Baltic sea freezes over, the Polaris will pound its way out, clearing a channel, and then lead a commercial ship in. The cahnnel doesn’t stay open for long, and if it freezes up the Polaris circles back and opens a path for the commerical ship again. If worst comes to worst, it tows the ship. The bow of the Polaris has very thick steel.

We went to a design museum in Helsinki which was kind of interesting. Loved the tiles in the hall on the first floor, the way they have a convex texture.

In search of freakiness, we made our way to the very weird Amos Rex art gallery. The exhibition hall is underground, with big skylights covered by tiles above it. And a big pile of broken-up furniture on the roof. Only when I got home did I learn the broken furniture was an installation called “The Nest” by the artist Tadashi Kawamata, who assembled the pieces from around the Helsinki areal.

Art in the basement gallery tended to relate to the theme of being underground. Like this cool old Italian painting of the view from a grotto.

And a boat made of painting canvases…maybe it’s Charon’s boat.

Saw a great woman near a really big Greek Orthodox cathedral near the harbor. Dig her tats. And the little toddler pushing her stroller, as they like to do, and really large dog.

Here’s that cathedral, like of like a Mandelbrot set.

Lots and lots of rental electric scooters in use. We kind of wanted to start using them…but we’ve never done it before, and there’d be a very real chance of breaking your ass, which is contraindicated if your 5,000 miles from home.

Back to that Lutheran cathedral, here’s one of the apostles. At the time I thought this was supposed to be an avenging angel, but apparently it’s Bartholomew, who was eventually slain by a sword, and the scimitar he wields is, like, his logo. Dig that bright sunlight around him.

Near the cathedral we blundered into some big central library…I was thinking of “The Library of Babel” in the great story by Jorge Luis Borges. Levels and radiating aisles.

Downstairs they had a display of some of their holdings. Like this bad-ass book.

And here’s a fine sample of the local tongue, expressing a phrase in Finnish, Swedish, and English.

And then it was off through the loops and reflections of travel from Helsinki to Stockholm. To be continued…

5 Responses to “Helsinki Math & Art”

  1. Meredith Bricken Mills Says:

    Good fun, love your rich illustrations. Especially liked Amos Rex art gallery photo. Re that
    “really cool quilt of some mathematical meaning that I don’t quite remember”, maybe master-quilter Sylvia knows? You are SO well documented, Dr. Rucker. 🙂

  2. Paul Shotts Says:

    Please do not tell me that you did not see or visit the Central Library Oodi!

  3. geebot Says:

    Yes! To be wandering around an unknown city, not knowing what’s even going on, and enjoying it. That is a luxurious feeling. Great pics as always!

  4. geebot Says:

    Yes! To be wandering around an unknown city, not knowing what’s even going on, and enjoying it. That is a luxurious feeling. Great pics as always!

  5. Andrew U Baker Says:

    Ah, I was going to make the joke “Everyone falls in love with Stockholm”, but you beat me there 🙂

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