For the mathematically challenged, a certain amount of fear arises when confronted by numbers without a calculator close at hand. But even if simple arithmetic prompts a cold sweat, the more you think about basic mathematics, the more fascinating and perplexing they can be—What is zero? Is it reasonable to formulate infinity? Why is pi never-ending?
These philosophical conundrums come to the fore in “Duality,” an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Halifax artist Patrick Rapati currently on view at Gallery Page and Strange. Employing the abstract qualities of long-form algebra, calculus, geometry and the like, the show takes on the indefinable limits of calculation, and in turn orders of existence: both the infinitely large and the infinitesimally small.
In his Large Number Generator series, Rapati creates compositional arrays of scribbled digits and formulae representing otherwise unimaginable sums. “The resulting numbers generated are real,” he writes in his artist statement, “in the sense that they can be defined, yet also unreal as they cannot be completely calculated.”
It’s a strategy that continues, to the opposite effect, in the Infinitesimals series. Here, Rapati telescopes his calculations to the immeasurably minute in a balance of numbers, triangles and lines that depict the geometric modes of mathematical abstraction. It’s a bid, he writes, to “construct the possibility of a numerical magnitude that may be described, yet is too small to be measured.”
It’s interesting (and a bit intimidating) to note that Rapati isn’t a mathematician and doesn’t work with a calculator or computer to devise these wide-ranging numeric constructions. In fact, as gallery co-director Victoria Strange explains it, he sees these works not only as an exercise in formulaic extremes but as a kind of “landscape in numbers.”
It’s a telling observation. While “Duality” is indeed a sophisticated display of calculated order, it doesn’t offer any conclusive answers to those perplexing riddles of mathematics. Instead, it hints at the exponential and ultimately unquantifiable mysteries of reimagining the world through numbers.