Apr 16–17, 2015

Calculation and Aesthetics

The conference »Calculation and Aesthetics« seeks to explore the relations between mathematical and aesthetical ways of thinking, and their encounter in visual arts, music, and literature. Together with scientists from various disciplines, fellows of Akademie Schloss Solitude will discuss the creativity of the mathematical, the fascination with the formal, and the limits of mathematical practices.

Date: Apr 16, 2015, 18:00 Uhr

Duration: Apr 16–17, 2015

Location: Akademie Schloss Solitude

Generally, mathematics and art are considered as quite distant disciplines. This is most obvious in the focus that mathematics places on formal scientific proof. However, they converge in the way they organize the sensual, by creating formal fields of experimentation and symbolic spaces of action beyond the realm of discursive language. The conference »Calculation and Aesthetics« seeks to explore the relations between mathematical and aesthetical ways of thinking, and their encounter in visual arts, music, and literature. Three questions are central:


From its onset, mathematics has an intrinsic tendency to transcend material reality. It is oriented towards abstract structures, creates autonomous forms of representation and sets of rules, whose properties it examines. It thus provides a toolbox that then again allows to structure our experience of the world or even gives rise to alternative approaches to reality. This peculiar creativity of mathematics and its form-producing potency can complement artistic imagination or compete with it. Examples for this include perspective construction in classical painting, Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) or the literary experiments of the group Oulipo. What is the creativity of the mathematical?


Because of its reliability mathematics has always been the uncontested model for other sciences. Meanwhile, it has also been admired aesthetically for its elegance and regularity, manifest in the manifold usage of the proportions of the »golden ratio« in the arts, but also in the frequent depiction of fractals in scientific magazines. From the ancient Pythagoreans to Darren Aranofsky’s movie Pi (1998) suchlike properties have also provided ground for mystical and esoteric speculations. Is there a fascination with the formal and where does it come from?


Where the arts approximate the mathematical, they are often accused of compromising values that seem essential to them: the incalculability of aesthetic processes, the profundity of its contents, as well as emotion and imagination all seem to be incompatible with formal »constructedness«. In reverse, art has highlighted the limitations of mathematical thinking. Marcel Duchamp’s work 3 stoppages étalon (1913-14) creates an experimental setting that exposes the concept of the ideal geometric line to the forces of chance. Here, geometry is confronted with a critique that is not tangible anymore in mathematical parameters. What are the possibilities and limits of mathematical practices?

Participants: Martin Beck (philosopher, Berlin), Gerard Caris (visual artist, Maastricht/Netherlands), Juan Luis Gastaldi (professor for philosophy and aesthetics, École Supérieure des Beaux Arts Montpellier Agglomération, Montpellier/France), Christian Grüny (philosopher, guest researcher at Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt am Main), Oswald Egger (author, professor for language and form at Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design Kiel, Kiel), Gunnar Geisse (improviser, composer, and interpreter, Munich), Kristen Haring (historian of science and technology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA/USA), Sybille Krämer (professor for theoretical philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin), Herbert Mehrtens (professor for modern history, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Braunschweig), Dieter Mersch (head of the Institute for Critical Theory, Zurich University of the Arts, Zurich), Robert Tubbs (associate professor, Department of Mathematics, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO/USA), Jan Wöpking (philosopher, Berlin).


Thursday, April 16, 2015

6 p.m. Welcoming Remarks
Jean-Baptiste Joly, Director of Akademie Schloss Solitude

6.15 p.m. Sybille Krämer
»Aisthetik – nicht: Ästhetik der Mathematik. Reflexionen über die Rolle der Sinnlichkeit des Kalküls im Anschluss an Descartes, Leibniz, Kant«

7 p.m. Christian Grüny
»Fabricated Nature – Tone and Tonal System«

7.45 p.m. Break

8 p.m. Gerard Caris
»Presentation of Pentagonism«

9 p.m. Snack and Get-together in the Cafeteria

Friday, April 17, 2015

10 a.m. Robert Tubbs
»Is Malevich’s Square an Axiom? – Axioms and Abstractions in Modern Mathematics and Art«

10.45 a.m. Coffee Break

11 a.m. Gunnar Geisse
»Der spektrale Klangraum. Struktur und Abbild«

11.45 a.m. Juan Luis Gastaldi
»Signs: From an Aesthetic Dimension of Mathematics to a Formal Approach to Art«

1 p.m. Lunch

2 p.m. Martin Beck
»The Objective Side of the Unforeseen – Construction in Kant’s Philosophy of Mathematics and Adorno’s Aesthetics«

2.45 p.m. Jan Wöpking
»›Ich verstehe nicht …‹ (Über verschiedene Weisen, mathematische Dinge nicht zu verstehen und was Kunst damit zu tun hat)«

3.30 p.m. Coffee Break

3.45 p.m. Kristen Haring
»System Fascination: The Search for Structure«

4.30 p.m. Herbert Mehrtens
»Gründe und Ur-Gründe: Die Frage nach Gewissheit und Geltungsanspruch in Mathematik und Kunst um 1900 (und später)«

5.15 p.m. Coffee Break

5.30 p.m. Dieter Mersch
»Strukturalistische Mathematik und strukturalistische Ästhetik: Kurze Geschichte einer Mésentente«

6.15 p.m. Break

6.30 p.m. Ceremonial lecture by Oswald Egger
»Was bilde ich mir ein, und was denke ich mir dabei? Wie eins zum anderen kommt und da wie dort vollständig in sich übergehen werde«

8 p.m. Buffet

The event is part of the art, science & business program at Akademie Schloss Solitude. In cooperation with the Institute for Critical Theory of the Zurich University of the Arts and the DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 1539 »Sichtbarkeit und Sichtbarmachung. Hybride Formen des Bildwissens« of the University of Potsdam.

Conception: Martin Beck, Dieter Mersch, Akademie Schloss Solitude.

Initiated by Martin Beck.

The conference will be held in English and German. Admission is free.

Per diem meal allowance: 25 Euro regular price and 20 Euro for students.

Please register until April 10, 2015 via e-mail to Valeska Neumann:

vn@akademie-solitude.de | +49 (0)711 996 19 134.