Algorithmic Aesthetic


Slow Fiber Studios’ 2017-18 event series Algorithmic Aesthetic is inspired by the themes of the exhibition Reverberating Echoes: Contemporary Art inspired by Traditional Islamic Art, organized by the Center for the Arts and Religion (CARe). Curated by Islamic Art scholar Carol Bier and displayed in the Doug Adams Gallery at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, the exhibition features seven contemporary American artists of diverse cultural and artistic backgrounds whose works draw upon the rich visual heritage of traditional Islamic art.

The Reverberating Echoes exhibition posits that rather than Eurocentric assumptions of decorative ornament, when examined in cultural context a defining feature of traditional Islamic art is an “algorithmic aesthetic” of pattern. Algorithmic Aesthetic will explore relationships between art, music, mathematics, and language by following threads of Islamic cultural heritage, weaving between the ancient and the contemporary, tradition and innovation. Through conversations, lectures, workshops, and demonstrations, the series will investigate a range of topics including fine art, systems, music, architecture, calligraphy, and mathematics.

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Intersections: Mathematics + Design + Identity
Saturday, January 27 | 4:00pm – 8:00pm
Berkeley Hillside Club | 2286 Cedar St, Berkeley, CA 94709


Join us at the Berkeley Hillside Club for an evening with four distinguished presenters from varied but interrelated disciplines. The first half of the evening will focus on concepts of infinity bridging the realms of mathematics and design with artist Phil Webster and esteemed logician Martin Davis. The second half of the evening will maintain the mathematical theme with a view towards regional identity, with presentations by Vanessa Drake Moraga on South American indigenous weavings and Yoshiko I. Wada on Japanese folk embroidery.

Algorithmic Aesthetic: Into Infinity
Phil Webster + Martin Davis
4:00pm – 5:30pm

Potluck Social 5:30pm – 6:30pm

Regional Identity through Design and Craft
Vanessa Drake Moraga + Yoshiko I. Wada
6:30pm – 8:00pm



A Methodology for Creating Fractal Islamic Patterns

Phil Webster

Blending his own mathematics background with ancient craft traditions including Celtic knots, Indian kolams, and Tibetan mandalas, Phil creates multimedia artwork using contemporary technologies such as 3D-printing, laser-cutting, and dye sublimation. Although he works with computers to design and calculate, his pieces are generated by hand, a modern cooperation between man and machine. Phil will present his methodology for applying fractal mathematics to Islamic design concepts, using traditional geometric arrangements as a foundation to build truly fractal Islamic patterns with self-similarity at infinite levels.

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Algorithms + Infinity

Martin Davis

Mathematicians use the word “set” to describe different collections of numbers; for example, the set of even numbers (0, 2, 4, …), and the set of odd numbers (1, 3, 5, …). When sets are “finite”, we can specify them by simply listing their members. But when sets proceed into infinity, we need to get more creative. Martin will explain three different methods mathematicians use to specify different sets of numbers, and how these lead to examples of problems we can’t solve with an algorithm. Using the basic and concrete language of numbers, we’ll see how changing your perspective on a problem can lead to deeper understandings and new avenues to explore.



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Essential Geometry of the Mapuche and Ranquel Poncho de Cacique

Vanessa Drake Moraga

Woven by the Araucanian peoples of southern Chile and the Argentine Pampas, the iconic Chief’s Poncho became an emblem of cultural resistance and indigenous identity during the 18th and 19th centuries. Although both Mapuche and Ranquel styles use indigo-dyed wool, their textiles express a striking dichotomy of design and symbolism revealing different strands of pre-hispanic influence. While Ranquel weavings feature tie-dyed concentric circles, Mapuche designs utilize cruciform-shaped ikat patterns. However, both fundamental motifs are ancient archetypal symbols conveying concepts of cosmological order, sacred space, and relationships to the landscape of the mountains and plains.

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(In)tangible Heritage: Stitchery from Northeastern Japan

Yoshiko I. Wada

A form of Japanese folk embroidery based on the basic running stitch, sashiko is now celebrated for its simple aesthetic, although it originated as a practical method to darn textiles such as insulated layered clothing and cloths used to wrap and carry. Its simple graphic motifs often build through tessellation to create complex compositions with varied symbolic and historical meanings; e.g. the hexagonal kikko representing tortoiseshell or beehive is a symbol of good fortune. Yoshiko will discuss sashiko’s regional specificities and the phenomenon of its global spread, introducing the themes of the 11th International Shibori Symposium to facilitate international discussion on how craft communities can thrive as regional identities in increasingly global societies.

Visiting Artist: Phil Webster


Phil Webster is a Santa Cruz-based artist trained in mathematics and cognitive science at MIT. His work, employing contemporary technologies such as 3D-printing, laser-cutting, and dye sublimation, addresses the intersection of mathematical form and pattern with ancient design tradition.


Visiting Scholar: Martin Davis

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Martin Davis is a world-renowned logician, author, and educator. He is recognized as one of the original computer programmers with his work on the ORDVAC computer at the University of Illinois in the 1950s and is regarded for his work on proving the unsolvability of the outstanding mathematical question of Hilbert’s Tenth Problem with Hilary Putnam, Julia Robinson, and Yuri Matiyasevich.

Visiting Scholar: Vanessa Drake Moraga

VDM face copy.JPGVanessa Drake Moraga is an independent researcher, writer, and curator; the author of Animal Myth and Magic: Images from Pre-Columbian Textiles (2005), Weaving Abstraction: Kuba Textiles and the Woven Art of Central Africa (2011), Shamans, Supernaturals and Animal Spirits. Mythic Figures from the Ancient Andes (2016) and has written many articles about African and Andean textile traditions and iconography for Hali, Tribal, and other publications.

Visiting Scholar: Yoshiko I. Wada

SFS EV18 WADA Portrait 2Yoshiko I. Wada is an artist, curator, and textile scholar, president of World Shibori Network, founder of Slow Fiber Studios, producer of the Natural Dye Workshop film series, and co-chair of the 1st – 11th International Shibori Symposiums. A Berkeley resident since 1973, she continues to lead a wide range of workshops, lectures, tours, and symposia internationally, emphasizing sustainability, tradition, and innovation in design.



Mathematical Foundations to Islamic Design:
Classical Tilings and the Work of Dr. W. K. Chorbachi
Dr. Jay Kappraff | July 3, 2017

Photo courtesy of Jay Kappraff

Interdisciplinary mathematics scholar Dr. Jay Kappraff expounded upon the work of Iraqi artist and scholar Dr. Wasma’a Khalid Chorbachi, who sought to prove there was a solid mathematical basis to Islamic design despite common sentiment to the contrary.


Engineering Ornament + Introduction to the Art of Arabic Calligraphy
Dr. Mamoun Sakkal | July 1 – July 2, 2017

Photo courtesy of Mamoun Sakkal

Following his opening lecture, Engineering Ornament: Square Kufic Calligraphy in Textile Design, Mamoun Sakkal taught a hands-on workshop with an overview of the origin and development of Arabic script, a review of traditional styles of Arabic calligraphy, and examples of contemporary calligraphic art.


Engineering Ornament: Square Kufic Calligraphy in Textile Design
Dr. Mamoun Sakkal | July 1, 2017

Photo courtesy of Mamoun Sakkal

Award-winning Calligrapher and typographer Mamoun Sakkal presented the intriguing use of Square Kufic calligraphy in textile design over many centuries, including prayer rugs, talismanic shirts, modern dress, and national flags.


An Algorithmic Aesthetic of Pattern: Examining Traditional Islamic Textiles
Carol Bier | May 27, 2017

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Photo courtesy of Carol Bier

Local Islamic art and textile scholar Carol Bier’s illustrated lecture explored the origins of an algorithmic aesthetic that permeated arts throughout the Islamic world in the 9th-12th centuries. Attendees were given the opportunity to examine and handle a variety of Islamic textiles in addition to works in other media, and to consider processes of pattern-making based on design algorithms.


Hira-Ori: Shadowfolds for Shibori Techniques
Chris K. Palmer | April 22-23, 2017

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Photo courtesy of Chris K. Palmer

Berkeley-based artist Chris K. Palmer introduced his Shadowfolds technique and patterns in this folding and dyeing workshop. Using simple twist folds layered with arashi-shibori taught by Yoshiko I. Wada, students explored the twisting grain of pleats as the folds produce novel polygonal regions of rotated stripes.


Algorithmic Aesthetic Opening Social
Carol Bier + Chris K. Palmer | April 2, 2017

Shadowfolds by Chris K. Palmer

Reverberating Echoes curator and Islamic art scholar Carol Bier was joined by exhibiting artist Chris K. Palmer to kick-off the Algorithmic Aesthetic event series. Carol introduced the Reverberating Echoes exhibition and discussed her process of curating an exhibition around an “algorithmic aesthetic” of pattern as a defining feature of traditional Islamic art. Chris discussed his artwork and the geometric and mathematical processes behind its creation.


Reverberating Echoes - BOOK COVERReverberating Echoes: Contemporary Art Inspired by Traditional Islamic Art
January 31 – May 26, 2017

The Spring 2017 exhibition at the Graduate Theological Union’s Doug Adams Gallery, “Reverberating Echoes: Contemporary Art Inspired by Traditional Islamic Art,” highlighted the work of seven American artists of diverse interests, backgrounds, and training.  Inspired by traditional Islamic art, their works echo historic aesthetic concerns, often advancing human knowledge and understanding by experimentation with new technologies. Traditional concerns focused on the spatial dimension and the effects of light on form, the association of Arabic language and script with revelation, and patterns in the plane, exploring the nature of two-dimensional space.

Doug Adams Gallery
2465 Le Conte Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709

Purchase the Reverberating Echoes Exhibition Catalog

Biographies referenced from Reverberating Echoes: Contemporary Art Inspired by Traditional Islamic Art Exhibition Catalog by Carol Bier