I was at Potlatch (a gathering of the writers and readers of literary science fiction and fantasy at which participants exchange ideas) on Sunday afternoon. I was participating in a panel: Helixes, Corals, and Brains: Oh My!. A discussion about crafts based on math, science and nature. Have you knit a möbius strip or virus lately? The panelists were Elise Matthesen, Kate Schaefer, and myself. Vonda McIntyre was unable to be there but we showed and discussed her work.
We all talked about the tech of our work and discussed the hyperfocus (geekiness) as it relates to the creative as well as the technical part of the work. “Geekiness” implies a high level of focus and knowledge. Jewelry, sculpture, and other “material” arts can have an intense focus on conceptual and intellectual content, sometimes including a deep knowledge of materials, their histories and meanings, as well as of any representational aspects of the finished work (in other words, if the work is a silver raven, I have to know a lot about silver and a lot about ravens to do the piece justice).
I was fascinated by the conversation. I use lots of natural science references in my work, as I recently discussed in this post. I also often use geology references and astronomical images, and I have a profound knowledge of stones. I take this specific knowledge and reinterpret it to create the art. But I use the natural sciences, not physics or math.
This conversation is teaching me a lot about the work of people I admire, and also making me think about my own work in ways I don’t usually consider.
Among her work, which includes crocheting hyperbolic surfaces, Vonda makes wonderful undersea creatures that I’ve blogged about before. When I went to this post, I realized for the first time that the panel title had been taken from the title of the post.
Here’s a picture of the shadowbox installation of her work I put together for her when I was in Seattle last fall. (For the folks who were at the panel, this is the image I was talking about.)
Vonda says: One day I was reading an article on hyperbolic geometry by Ivars Peterson in Science News, one of my favorite magazines and one of my favorite science writers. I realized that he was describing geometry that I could adapt to bead creatures, so I made one. I wrote him a note and asked if I could send it to him; not only did he accept it, he wrote it up for Science News in Anatomy of a Bead Creature
Elise does marvelous jewelry pieces using weaving technique in silver wire that tend to form helixes, not in a symmetrical sense but rather in an organically woven way. She compares it to working with ribbon; when you stroke a ribbon with a scissor and then follow the curves, it will frequently wants to form a helix. Her intricately woven jewelry has literary nuances and exquisite titles, and have inspired some fine novels and short stories, including this year’s Hugo-winning short story “Tideline” by Elizabeth Bear. Her Live Journal includes an ongoing discussion of her work.
Kate says she “uses both hand and machine sewing construction methods. I’ve been sewing and making art to wear for many years. My work is strongly influenced by the crazy-quilting tradition, and I ratchet back and forth between the excessively decorated and the deceptively simple.” She was talking about the physics of pattern making and design, and the complexities of transferring from a flat pieces to the roundness of the body. Much of her work is far more complex then the photos on her web site. When you look at Kate’s work, you see, of course, not the physics but the masterly way she folds pattern and design together to make a whole.
There will be a “Metal, Fiber, Beads, and High Geekiness” panel at Wiscon, the world feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin in May where we will get to enlarge and develop these ideas. I’m looking forward to it.