Nadav Drukker – Form and formulas, a marriage of clay and numbers

3 minute read
Nadav Drukker - Index 20 detail
Nadav Drukker – Index 20 detail

As a theoretical physicist working in the Maths Department of King’s College London, people often assume that my life and work revolves around numbers. I was even issued a special numerical keypad for my computer, which in fact is rarely used. Mathematics and physics are so much more than numbers, but of course they do come to the fore from time to time.

Numbers have an overreaching presence in our lives and in nature. Sometimes it is overt, like when we count apples, and sometimes it is much more hidden underlying structures around us. They are all over my art, both literally and figuratively and I hope that the numbers invite the viewer to appreciate the art and the art entices them to understand the formulas, the numbers and science in general.

In my art practice I aim to mirror the creativity of scientific research in a craft, ceramics. I’ve been an amateur potter for almost 20 years in parallel to my physics career without the two ever crossing paths. Then, for a variety of reasons, I decided to connect the two. I choose forms inspired by the topics that I study and transcribe the formulas that I develop on them. I use stoneware and porcelain. The former mostly for rough calculations and the latter for refined results. The topics that I study are within the subjects called string theory and supersymmetric field theory and are very theoretical and abstract. Likewise many of the formulas that I find and use are not easy to understand and sometimes even not very easy to write down. They mostly involve symbols representing other quantities, sometimes very complicated objects themselves.

Nadav Drukker - Circle 10
Nadav Drukker – Circle 10

For my work “Circle-10” I took the end-result of a calculation that I performed with my PhD supervisor, the Nobel laureate Prof. D.J.Gross and reexamined it. In our paper https://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0010274 we express the final result of the calculation in terms of a combination of reasonably well known functions. I decided to express this function in terms of numbers, a sequence of rational numbers, or ratios, each multiplying a different power of two parameters, λ and N. In our calculations we often assume that N is large, so 1 is much larger than 1/N which is itself much larger than 1/N and so on. I chose to represent this by writing the numbers with clay coloured with cobalt carbonate and dilute it depending on the power of N, so that the most dominant terms are in bright blue and the colour fades as we get to the less important subleading terms.

Many years later, in a paper that I wrote with my own PhD students, we calculated a completely different function, called “Schur Index”. This function was studied by various people prior to us and its original definition, which gets quite obscured within complicated formulas, is the result of counting certain objects. The function amalgamates the result of an infinite number of counting problems, so an infinite number of integers. Luckily there is fancy mathematics that allows us to evaluate all these numbers at one go, or else it would take an infinite amount of time. Our expression for the Schur Index was particularly simple and I took it and extracted the sequence of integers from it. In “Index-10” I used old print type to impress the first 200 integers in one example of the Schur index on a stoneware vessel. “Index-20” has the first 250 counts in another example of the Schur index with blue clay inlaid in porcelain.

Nadav Drukker - Spectral 12
Nadav Drukker – Spectral 12

My “Spectral” series is based on ongoing work, which hopefully will be published in the coming month. So all the calculations appearing on these pots are drafts and may contain mistakes, which will hopefully be fixed prior to publication, though they are immortalised in ceramics. The formulas appearing on “Spectral-12”, for example, again represent numbers – rational numbers or ratios. More precisely polynomials with rational coefficients. Here the numbers are represented as both explicit numerals, like 4, and in terms of variables, like p, q, which in this case can represent any integer.

Numbers have an overreaching presence in our lives and in nature. Sometimes it is overt, like when we count apples, and sometimes it is much more hidden underlying structures around us. They are all over my art, both literally and figuratively and I hope that the numbers invite the viewer to appreciate the art and the art entices them to understand the formulas, the numbers and science in general.

Find Nadav here: IG @nadavdrukker

 

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