Article

Mathematics

You do the math!

  • GraphicDesign& interview Peter Crnokrak
  • 8 February 2014
Detail from Maths Dreamed Universe.

Detail from Maths Dreamed Universe.

Croatian-born, Canadian-raised Peter Crnokrak is the London-based founder of solo practice The Luxury of Protest. He is the recipient of awards from the AIGA, RSA and the National Science Foundation, and a contributor to GraphicDesign&’s most recent publication Golden Meaning. Here, Crnokrak speaks about his early career in science, his non-traditional approach to design and his never-ending quest for perfection.

You originally worked as a scientist before becoming a designer. What prompted your decision to switch disciplines and how did you find the crossover?

I left the sciences as I had a desire to create and a desire to be creative from a perspective that was wholly my own. Art and, to a certain degree, design, are singularly selfish acts that stem from a personal perspective on life that shuns external interference and influence. Though I love being a designer, my work has tended to drift away from traditional design in that it is not mediated by client needs or by commercial interests. In many ways this is ironically similar to how the sciences work: scientists receive funding to conduct research and are simply left to do as they please. As a scientist, most of my research dealt with theoretical systems and, as such, did not have immediate ‘practical’ applicability. I loathe this term as it stems from a small-minded cultural perception that lacks the imagination or foresight to comprehend the importance of knowledge. Nevertheless, my transition to art was quite smooth and natural.

The thought processes I used in the sciences are exactly the same as those I use for my visually creative work. I don’t sketch in the traditional sense. Instead I write out my concepts and write out visual descriptions of the type of form I want the concepts to take on. My sketchbook is paragraph after paragraph of text laying out in excruciating detail the emotional qualities that I want my concepts to imbue. In this way, everything is possible right up to the point of visual creation. My mind is not constrained or locked into a meagerly drawn sketch that can never approximate the true possibility of what a concept will eventually become.

Maths Dreamed Universe is a quantitative visualisation of the manner with which elemental forms in nature order themselves. The form of the spiral is determined by the golden angle subtension of a circle that distributes numbers
from the centre (0) to the outer edge (100,001).

Maths Dreamed Universe is a quantitative visualisation of the manner with which elemental forms in nature order themselves. The form of the spiral is determined by the golden angle subtension of a circle that distributes numbers from the centre (0) to the outer edge (100,001).

Would you say your work aims to bridge the gap between science and design?

In a way yes, but I’m not naive in assuming that the gulf will ever be bridged. My visualisation projects use data as the hard logic foundation from which all else is possible. From there, the data is a springboard to fantasy – an attempt to explore what is possible with regard to human communication. Our emotions are the most effective way of communicating; this is something that all experienced creatives know. But this approach is anathema to the sciences, primarily because emotion involves very complex, non-agreed-upon codes and the codes constantly change with changes in cultural norms. I see my work as experiments in being human. I want to know how deep I can go into people’s hearts to really understand my own. I’m constantly searching for that depth of experience that allows us a perspective on a life that is pure, like touching the singular point that explains all – the point that is perfect in and of itself.

UR maps the catalogue of Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance with images of coronal mass ejections from the year each record was released. The concept is a recognition of the reciprocal nature of universal influence.

UR maps the catalogue of Detroit techno collective Underground Resistance with images of coronal mass ejections from the year each record was released. The concept is a recognition of the reciprocal nature of universal influence.

The golden mean combines mathematical precision with notions of abstract and visual beauty. Are its proportions consciously found in other works you have created?

My work is a ceaseless struggle to touch perfection. You try and try and try and push yourself to the point of self-deprecating hate and live in a dark world of frustration and disappointment. But every so often, the darkness parts and you get to see the beauty that lies behind the veil. I don’t create this beauty, but sift through the infinite sands of universal pattern to find those moments of beauty perfected. In that place is a crystalline contentment, as if time stands still and you feel immortal. When you understand mathematics, you understand that the universe is built from beauty. The geometry of the universe is stunningly beautiful which is an easy statement to make. But to truly accept that idea, you have to ask why that is? Why do we find it so beautiful? Answer that question, and you walk with the gods.

Believed to be the most complex and beautiful structure in mathematics, the 4_21 polytope is the algebraic form at the centre of a universal theory of everything. 4_21 models field dynamics and elementary particle transformations through pure geometry.

Believed to be the most complex and beautiful structure in mathematics, the 4_21 polytope is the algebraic form at the centre of a universal theory of everything. 4_21 models field dynamics and elementary particle transformations through pure geometry.

In a previous interview you defined critical design as ‘that which makes one question the nature of accepted norms’. Did you question the golden ratio in your design for GraphicDesign&?

Question everything. This is the essential quality of the scientist – and of anyone with a modicum of intelligence. Human history is a nightmare past of ridiculous beliefs that have fallen by the wayside as we struggle to define this thing called existence. There is no truth. And yet, there is. As a researcher, the moment you start believing in a monolithic truth is the moment you stop wearing the mantle of scientist and take on that of priest. Bottom line is, you don’t know shit about the world. Mathematics is a language by which to understand the universe. What that language has to say is __________.