YEAR: 2009
LOCATION: Künstlerhaus Wien, Vienna, AUSTRIA
DATE: 11.10.2009
PHOTOCREDITS: ©Georg Gläser, ©Franz Morgenbesser


2009 was the ‘Year of Darwin’. At the Künstlerhaus in Vienna, there was an exhibition on Darwin. Ruth Mateus-Berr took the only perspective in this group exhibition on this commemoration on the abuse of his theories and argument for racism and misogyny. Ruth Mateus-Berr expresses her thoughts about social implications of Darwinism, and in particular pseudo-scientific justifications for imperialism and racism, in her work “VERMESSEN” (MISMEASUREMENT), through several expressive staged photography. 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 emeritus 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.
Numbers and Mismeasurement includes a lively performance about African mathematics, a joint artistic and scientific presentation, involving finger counting methods, music and African story-telling, and the account on the Ishango rod, the oldest object of mathematics, the 22000-years-old Ishango rod, found in Congo.
A high-light was Ruth Mateus-Berr’s live execution of a traditional African sand drawing on a table covered with sand. Another challenge for the audience was the measurement of the proportion navel-head compared to the length: using a large “golden section” compass. The ideal proportions are different in all cultures and also the “golden section” was not used in history, as alleged.

Catalogue/Künstlerhaus: Mateus-Berr, Ruth (2009) Zahlen und Vermessenheit. In: EvoEvo. 200 Jahre Darwin 150 Jahre Evolutionstheorie. Zeitgenössische Beiträge aus Kunst und Wissenschaft (Eds. Peter und Ingeborg Braunsteiner). Wien: Künstlerhaus (p. 75-82 and p. 168-169)
Ruth Mateus-Berr in: maths goes design-design goes maths. (Ed. Gerald Bast, Universiät für angewandte Kunst Wien) Wien 2010 p. 72-75

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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”.

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