Performance Dirk Huylebrouck und Ruth Mateus-Berr
‘VERMESSEN’, artistically and mathematically
Ruth Mateus-Berr, assistant professor at the Department for Applied Arts of the University of Vienna expresses her thoughts
about social implications of Darwinism, and in particular pseudo-scientific justifications for imperialism and racism, in
her work “VERMESSEN”, through several expressive high-quality photographs add (see previous pages). Some of these “Darwinist”
justifications use a kind of mathematical mumbo-jumbo based on all kinds of measurements, and involving mathematical notions
such as the golden section. Her artistic approach about, of course, the complete nonsense of these theories agreeably correspond
to some of the conclusions drawn by Dirk Huylebrouck, a mathematician of the Sint-Lucas Department for Architecture in Brussels.
He wrote a book and many publications about “African mathematics”, in which not only the abundant positive features of links
between Africa and mathematics are emphasized, but also some abuses. When both the artist and the mathematician met during
a conference in May 2009, organised by Rutgers’ Prof. Bahman Kalantari (US), they thought of a joint project, which turned
out in the organisation of two talks in October 2009, in Vienna.
One of the talks was addressed to the more mathematical audience of the “Math Space”, located in Vienna’s “Museum Quartier”.
Huylebrouck’s PowerPoint survey of African mathematics went back all the way to the oldest object of mathematics, the 22000-years-old
Ishango rod, found in Congo. He explained his efforts for the recognition of the object, which was not shown on public display
for about 50 years. Actually, today there even is a second Ishango rod, confirming some of the hypotheses about the first
Ishango bone, as the discoverer of the rod(s) admitted its existence on his death bed. Despite this rather sad story about
colonial or neo-colonial denial of African mathematical awareness, the talk at the “Math Space” was done in a lively way,
through demonstrations performed with some members of the audience.
In Huylebrouck’s second talk at the Kunstlerhaus, Ruth Mateus-Berr would pick up the idea of a lively performance about African
mathematician. It actually turned out into a joint artistic and scientific presentation, involving finger counting methods,
music and African story-telling, and the account on the Ishango rod. A high-light was Ruth Mateus-Berr’s live execution of
a traditional African sand drawing on a table covered with sand – an act Huylebrouck hardly dares to perform despite his years
of experience. Another challenge for the audience was the measurement of the proportion navel-head compared to the length:
using a large “golden section” compass Mateus-Berr could confirm some of the participants were of “ideal” proportions along
social-Darwinist theories. Moreover, a picture of Mateus-Berr herself, shown on Huylebrouck’s accompanying PowerPoint presentation,
illustrated her face perfectly obeyed to golden section rules. Fortunately, the light-hearted approach of both presenters
made most participants think about the true implications of these statements, and so, by the end of the talk all of them did
indeed join Mateus-Berr and Huylebrouck in their call for “Math Power”.