Alice and algebra

image from wikipedia

As you can imagine, art has been my main interest in my life right from when I could hold a crayon. I took art in high school along with the required variety of academic subjects. In math my marks were in the A’s until the end of grade 11 and my teacher, an old maid as we used to say back then, encouraged me to study mathematics in university. I told her I’d decided on studying art but thanked her for her excellent teaching of algebra and geometry that helped me learn so well, not because of an innate ability or gift in me.

This was proved in my final grade 12 year when I had a male teacher who spent most of the class time bragging about his upcoming potential political career to a select group of favourite male students. As I struggled to understand trigonometry and what else, I’ve since forgotten, I became extremely stressed to find my marks dropping to near failure. I did pass but with a low mark, not good for my final average for graduation. Funny how these two teachers, plus a supportive woman art teacher are amongst the few I still remember from my high school years.

All this came to mind this morning as we were finishing breakfast and reading articles to each other from the newspaper as we often do on weekends. Husband, who’s good in math and has an interest in its history, read a fascinating article from his iPod Touch that astonished and amused us highly, with its references to a mix of arts, literature, mathematics, history and satire.

With another movie just out based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Melanie Bayley, a doctoral candidate in English literature at Oxford has written an article for the New York Times called Algebra in Wonderland. Some quotes to start with to inspire you to read the whole thing:

SINCE “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Alice is Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford dean; the Lory and Eaglet are Alice’s sisters Lorina and Edith; Dodgson himself, a stutterer, is the Dodo (“Do-Do-Dodgson”).

Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice’s search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson’s field.

In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In “Alice,” he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

I realize this may not be news to many of my well-read readers but it was to us. This makes me want to read Alice in Wonderland again with new and adult eyes and then see this new movie! Meanwhile husband went searching online for a certain history of mathematics that he’d read and enjoyed years ago.

Get Out


Go here to see this fabulous award-winning short animation film with a stunning surprise ending. You will enjoy it!

Found at Chris Tyrell’s Blog.

This gives me the opportunity to mention that Chris Tyrell is a well-known arts advocate in Vancouver. I’ve long enjoyed and admired his editorials for the Opus Art Supplies monthly newsletter. He’s also author of Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist. I was pleased to discover that he has a blog.

a murder of crows


I just want to tell you about a fascinating sounding program airing tomorrow evening, Sunday October 11th at 9 pm on CBC-TV: A Murder of Crows. Check out the promo video. If you don’t have access to CBC-TV or don’t have a TV, the program will be available later to view online at the CBC site.

I look forward to seeing this program for it sounds like we may be in for some surprises. Crows and ravens are such intelligent birds and feature in so many of our myths, fairytales and legends and yet live around us in almost all parts of the world. I’m quite curious about the very odd term of a murder of crows for a group of them but there seem to be no truly definitive answers that I’ve found. I hope some of my crow-loving blog friends will see this program and give us some feedback!

By the way, the delightful drawing above is by Susan of Adventures, Ink and phantsythat. She has kindly given me permission to use it here. Please do read the story of how Crow met Susan as well as both her lovely blogs.

UPDATE Sunday evening: Just finished watching this – excellent! I learned so much. Highly recommended! But I still don’t know the source of ‘murder of crows’….

Film: Recipes for Disaster

If you live in the Vancouver area, you will want to see this important film:

On April 16, view the third and final film of DOXA’s Documentary Film Series in the lead-up to our May festival. Recipes for Disaster follows a young Anglo-Finnish family as they rid themselves of all oil-based products for a year. The challenge proves to be more emotionally difficult than the family anticipates and John, father and instigator of the oil fast, must find a balance between living oil-free and keeping a functional family. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

DOXA Documentary Film Series Screens Recipes for Disaster

Location: Vancity Theatre, 1181 Seymour St., Vancouver
Date & Time: Thursday, April 16th, 7pm

Filmmaker in attendance via Skype for Q&A after screening

Here is a short film clip.

This may sound familiar to some readers for I wrote about it over a year ago after seeing it on CBC. I recommend it highly!

In addition to the reviews in the DOXA link above, here is a review in The Tyee. The reviewer tends to focus most on the couple’s relationship issues and neglects thoughts about the wider environmental concerns. How do we manage and balance both?

a Wm. Kentridge video


This was sent to me by artist friend Dorothy:
In “Taking a Line for a Walk” (2007) William Kentridge performs what looks like pantomime until, as it repeats, bare bones animation gives his moves meaning.
Delightful! And I see that William Kentridge is showing at SFMOMA March 14th to May 31st of this year. Dorothy says she’s going to San Francisco and will see the exhibition, lucky lady!

Added March 13th:
(Poet Joe Hyam sent me this astonishing response. I feel this deserves a place up front with Kentridge’s video rather than buried in the comments.)

Some years ago I wrote this poem beneath the Paul Klee quotation:
The original movement, the agent, is a point that sets itself in motion. A line comes into being. It goes for a walk, so to speak, for the sake of the walk.

From the black seed of the first explosion
Grew a line, sinuous, filament-thin,
Walked out through matter, aeon after aeon,
Till it paused to rest at the place we’re in.
Do you want to see what drawing or text
Is described in particles of light? What next?
With straining eyes you crane your neck
To see if anything familiar is left
Amid the spongey darkness of the wreck
Of its ventures all clogged up and cleft.
What will happen to it in the end
Turns into  a game of let’s pretend.
You watch the screen and click the mouse
But nothing shows. Is there an actor in the house?

The only change I would make now as I look at it again is the last sentence. “Is there an artist in the house?” might be more appropriate.
I was so pleased to see this video about taking a line for a walk that I felt I had to respond immedately.  I had long nurtured and taken pleasure in Klee’s idea, which says so much about a particular attitude to drawing. I wrote the poem when I first encountered the quotation at an exhibition at the Tate Modern, but I can’t remember precisely when.

(Thank you, Joe! If you don’t know Joe Hyam’s work, please get acquainted with his thoughtful and beautiful daily observations at Now’s the Time and the amazing Compasses, Handbook for Explorers, a poetry and photo collaboration with Lucy Kempton.)

talk on creativity

You must watch this amazing video at TED.

Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

Gilbert is the author of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. It came highly recommended and lent to me by my sister-in-law. Not usually the kind of book I’d choose, I read it last summer and enjoyed her writing. Now seeing and hearing her powerful message was an inspiration for me. I think you will feel the same. (Thanks, Elisa, for pointing me to it!)

PS. I just remembered a very old post on creativity that is worth reading again. It’s a reminder that our simple daily acts of creativity are just as important as the ‘masterpieces’ that may come along, sometimes just once in a lifetime.

Added Feb.20th, 2009:
Very related to the above is a post by Elaine Lipson called Visiting the Muse. Written in her always warm, articulate and thoughtful way, it made me nod my head in agreement. Have I ever told you that Red Thread Studio is one of my favourite artist’s blogs?

together for peace


It’s been very foggy for several days here in Vancouver and matching it is my brain fog caused by a head cold. It’s a bit like being tongue-tied. So once again, I’m using the words of others here, this time with thanks to my son-in-law J. who is a filmmaker, film editor and teacher. After reading my last blog post (I’m thrilled to know he reads my blog), he sent me this email:

While the subject is on your mind, I thought you might like to look at the work of Peace it Together. This is the organisation I’ve been working with since the summer. You can watch some of the films produced at the peace camps here.

What a timely reminder! Here’s a little about this Vancouver-based non-profit Peace it Together Society and it’s program:

Peace it Together is a year-long curriculum for Palestinian, Israeli, and Canadian youth that begins with an intensive residential program on Canada’s West Coast. Our vision is to build a culture of creative leaders inspiring and educating others to work toward peace. We do this by teaching creative and practical conflict resolution skills to youth as they work in teams to create short films related to the conflict.

J told me about his part in it:

My role is to support the youth in the editing of their films. I spent time at the camp working with the groups during the final week as they toiled to finish their projects. I think what they achieved is remarkable and the quality of the work very strong. They continue to be a source of inspiration, especially during the darkest days of the war. I’m currently working with some of the participants on a behind-the-scenes film and look forward to maintaining a relationship with the organisation as long as there is work to be done.

I hope you will explore and enjoy the fabulous and inspiring Peace it Together website and especially the films. I enjoyed reading about the participants and their feelings during this camp. In all the terrible news from Gaza, these young people offer a bright ray of hope for the future and a wonderful example of cooperation and understanding.

lovely links


The Yukon Delta taken 5/26/2002 by ASTER
Image courtesy of USGS National Center for EROS and NASA Landsat Project Science Office

1. Our Earth as Art – Landsat-7 and ASTER satellite images of the earth that look like fabulous artworks. Thanks to artist Joanne Mattera, do check out her favourites. I’d seen these somewhere before and am so pleased to see these again so that I can save the link here. Inspirations for my own work?

2. This is an amazing must-see short film: Lena Geiseke’s 3D Exploration of Picasso’s Guernica**

3. Mark your calendars! The second annual International Rock-Flipping Day is on September 7th! Read all about it and plan to participate.

** UPDATE March 4th, 2014: Previous link had expired. Replaced with another that I just came across at Open Culture.

‘Centigrade’ wins Leos

I’m thrilled to share the news that a certain special film has won five Leos just a few days ago here in Vancouver. The Leo Awards honor the best in British Columbian television and film production every year.

Centigrade is a short thriller that took home five of its seven nominations. The film has been recognized in several film festivals and is now qualified to enter the Academy Awards!

Congratulations to everyone involved in the making of this film! Our special congratulations go to Jonathan Tyrrell, the picture editor, who also happens to be the person who encouraged me to start blogging, is the designer of this weblog and is our son-in-law, the father of our delightful grand-daughters.

Centigrade is about a man stuck in a trailer and desperately searching for a means to get out before he burns inside the vehicle. Now we can hardly wait to see this film, though judging from this Teaser Trailer, it may be a bit too exciting for me!

geologic journey


Spotting a seemingly insignificant looking rock like this one now sends me wondering about its history, its journey through millions of years. Thanks to the powerful series Geologic Journey, my view of our world, especially of Canada and part of North America, has been profoundly enlarged.

Some weeks ago, happening to turn on CBC TV, we caught the last episode The Atlantic Coast, one part of which documents:

The rocks in the glowing cliffs in Nova Scotia once nestled beside Africa, as part of the super-continent Pangea. Millions of years ago, crocodiles and dinosaurs wandered here and today paleontologists come to unearth their remains.

The beaches and cliffs here are an unlikely home to the world’s largest collection of fossils from the Triassic/Jurassic period. They are virtually brimming with dinosaur skulls, teeth and jaws.

We were so amazed and awed by it that we wanted to see the rest of the series so I promptly ordered the DVD set. This five-part documentary series, shot in high-definition, delves into the geological history that has shaped the mythic Canadian landscape, offering a wide and compelling range of scientific, amateur enthusiast and narrative perspectives that enlighten the ways in which our land is shaped. It’s extremely well done, very dramatic with all the powerful visual and scientific techniques available today, not at all boring and dry. The website offers quite a bit of information and preview clips of each episode, so if this subject interests, do have a browse. Highly recommended!