Monday, April 25, 2011

Long Live the (Mc)Queen

I am not a fashionista, by any stretch of the imagination: I have been known to wear pajama pants on grocery store runs, and also I own a Snuggie. In my weak defense, my lack of creativity with my daily ensembles mostly stems from the fact that I rarely wear an outfit for longer than my 15-minute bike ride to and from the theatre (and also, the cost of my dream wardrobe far exceeds my anemic funds). But despite my "black-goes-with-everything" amount of effort that I put into my personal everyday look, I do have a typically girlish love and appreciation for fashion, and one of my favorite designers is the late, great Alexander McQueen, whose garments never lack for imagination or drama.

The current creative director of Alexander McQueen, one Sarah Burton, spoke with Vogue recently about several of McQueen's dresses, which are set to be part of the Costume Institute's upcoming exhibition "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," opening May 4 at the Met in New York City. Turns out that the stories behind McQueen's designs are as inspired and as dramatic as they look.

The dress below is from the Fall 2006 collection, called "Widows of Culloden." Burton tells Vogue: "The collection was about the 1745 massacre of the Scottish Jacobites by the English, which Lee felt so passionately about because of his Scottish family heritage, which his mother had researched. The women were the widows of the slaughtered army. This dress was actually based on my wedding dress--I got married two years earlier. We had to figure out how to make lace work in the round with those ruffles because Lee hated gathering. So we cut out all of the flowers from the lace and reappliquéd it on tulle to make our own fabric. This is the collection most people remember as the one with Kate Moss in a hologram. Oh, my God, it was so beautiful. He loved that show."

And of this dress, from the "Voss" Spring 2001 collection, Burton recalls: "So much of this show was about the collective madness of the world. It was presented in a two-way mirrored glass box in London, and the girls had bandaged heads, acting like inmates of a mental asylum. Lee wanted the top of this dress to be made from surgical slides used for hospital specimens, which we found in a medical-supply shop on Wigmore Street. Then we hand-painted them red, drilled holes in each one, and sewed them on so they looked like paillettes. We hand-painted white ostrich feathers and dip-dyed each one to layer in the skirt."

Alexander McQueen's designs are beautiful not only for their masterful execution and obvious uniqueness, but because his pieces evoke strong reactions and emotions, and convey a sense of importance and story (if not exactly the tale which inspired the designer). His clothes are art and theatre unto themselves, and for this somewhat self-apathetic fashion lover, worthy of worship, indeed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

the most beautiful equation

Etudes is an exercise in beauty; to me, its brilliance lies in its choreographic elegance and almost mathematical playfulness of the musicality. The strict counts and clean lines give this ballet a stunning, unexpected quality--in a way, Etudes is the most beautiful science put to music. This got me wondering: is there such a thing as "beautiful" math or science? And my research led me to what many scholars agree is the "most beautiful theorem in mathematics": Euler's Identity.

Named for Swiss-German mathematician Leonhard Euler, Euler's Identity is the equality in analytical mathematics:

where e is the base of natural algorithms (Euler's number); i is the imaginary unit--i² = −1; π is pi.

The reason Euler's identity is considered remarkable is because of its mathematical beauty. The three basic arithmetic operations occur exactly once each: addition, multiplication, and exponentiation. The equality also connects five fundamental mathematical constants:

- The number 0, or the additive identity
- The number 1, or the multiplicative identity
- The number π, ever-present in trigonometry, the geometry of Euclidean space, and analytical mathematics
- The number e, which is the base of natural logarithms
- The number i, or the imaginary unit of the complex numbers

Euler's Identity is a special case of Euler's formula from complex analysis, which reads (for any real number x):

And notably,

since cos π = -1 and sin π =0, then it must be true that

This gives us Euler's Identity:

The simplistic elegance of this equation, in mathematical beauty standards, is stunning; many scholars have waxed poetic about this one equality. A poll of readers conducted by The Mathematical Intelligencer magazine named Euler's Identity as the "most beautiful theorem in mathematics"; in another poll of readers by Physics World magazine Euler's Identity tied with Maxwell equations (of electromagnetism) as the "greatest equation ever". There is an entire 400-page mathematics book written by Dr. Paul Nahin devoted to the identity: Dr. Euler's Fabulous Formula; the tome professes that Euler's Identity sets "the gold standard for mathematical beauty." After proving Euler's Identity during a lecture, Benjamin Peirce, the noted American philosopher/mathematician and a professor at Harvard University, said, "It is absolutely paradoxical; we cannot understand it, and we don't know what it means, but we have proved it, and therefore we know it must be the truth." Perhaps Stanford University mathematics professor Dr. Keith Devlin was most poetic: "Like a Shakespearean sonnet that captures the very essence of love, or a painting that brings out the beauty of the human form that is far more than just skin deep, Euler's Equation reaches down into the very depths of existence."

Etudes has the same sort of clean beauty and technical impressiveness as Euler's Identity, albeit in a completely different way. Etudes takes the precise structure of the ballet class and emphasizes the beauty behind pure technique, much as this equality stresses the importance and beauty of the most basic numbers and functions in mathematics.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

inception, personified

Visual artist Maria Fischer has created a beautiful literary representation with her book Traumgedanken, or "dream thoughts." The text is a collection of literary, philosophical, psychological, and scientific passages that provide different insights into various dream theories. But what makes this book particularly unique, and a dreamlike work of art unto itself, is its design.

The book is designed as a physical model of a dream about dreaming. The slices of reality used to assemble a story bring the different text excerpts together. They are connected by actual threads which tie into certain key words--with the threads personifying the fragile, confused nature of dreams. Five of the pages contain illustrations made out of thread, with their form and color relying on key words on the opposite page. In this manner, Fischer has stunningly created for the reader an abstract image of a dream about dreaming. Moreover, there are five pages where a large excerpt from a text of the opposing page is stitched into the paper, thus rendering the text illegible since the type’s actual surface is inside the folded page. Fischer uses this to express the enigmatic characteristics of dreams, as well as the idea of dream interpretation.

Fischer has, in my opinion, created something wonderful. She has managed to (literally) weave together art and science, and has wisely chosen a more "creative" science as her topic--that grey area of dreamland. I hope to one day get my hands on a copy, if only to see for myself what it is like to untangle the threads and discover dreaming...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mental Disorders

I find mental disorders, minimalism, and graphic design fascinating (albeit each in very different ways), so when I saw that freelance British designer Patrick Smith had combined the three, I was intrigued. Smith has designed a series of minimalist posters on the often touchy subject of mental disorders. This could have easily gone very wrong--and many, maybe, will think it did--but I find I quite like the way Smith simply, beautifully illustrates the core idea behind each disorder; perhaps because I am all-too-familiar with the third in this series, I appreciate the subtlety and dark wit behind the posters (not to mention the use of my favorite font, the eternally perfect sans serif Helvetica).


Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Anorexia Nervosa.



Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sassy Gay Friend, and Fun fun fun fun fun....

Laughing is one of my favorite activities. I am (embarrassingly) easily amused, and I unfortunately have no shame when I laugh: if you ask almost anyone who knows me, they will tell you that I laugh/chuckle/snort/guffaw like a certifiable idiot. This does go completely against the silent, unapproachable, glamorous ballerina picture that's been so associated with my profession of choice, but I can't help it. (Nor can I help my insufferable snoring at night; it seems I am destined to be very loud and somewhat obnoxious at all times.) And when I am feeling at my very lowest, the first thing I do--following the obligatory quick personal pity party, of course--is go out in search of a good laugh. My friends and family are always excellent sources, but sometimes unavailable. And it is then that I turn to what might be the greatest cheer-up invention in the history of mankind: YouTube. I may have to search around for a bit, but it never fails to bring me some form of joy.

I had a couple of "must find humor" days this week, and YouTube didn't fail me. Today I will share two of the biggest laughs I got this week. The first comes from one of my favorites: Sassy Gay Friend. Introduced to me this summer by one of my very best, very own SGFs, the latest installment involves Black Swan, and how she could have been helped, if only she had a Sassy Gay Friend...

And the second video is an unbelievably magical performance of the now-infamous Rebecca Black's Friday video. Widely panned both at the Royal Danish Ballet and worldwide, the song and its accompanying video are generally agreed to be fantastically terrible. But this parody, starring the always-hilarious Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon, brings me so much happiness I have no almost makes me like the song. Just a little bit. Enough so I'm only mildly ashamed of writing that.

With that, I leave you to enjoy the weekend. Remember: Sunday comes after Saturday, and always listen to your Sassy Gay Friend.