African Fractals: Modern Computing and Indigenous Design

By Ron Eglash

Fractals are characterized by the repetition of similar patterns at ever-diminishing scales. Fractal geometry has emerged as one of the most exciting frontiers on the border between mathematics and information technology and can be seen in many of the swirling patterns produced by computer graphics. It has become a new tool for modeling in biology, geology, and other natural sciences.

Anthropologists have observed that the patterns produced in different cultures can be characterized by specific design themes. In Europe and America, we often see cities laid out in a grid pattern of straight streets and right-angle corners. In contrast, traditional African settlements tend to use fractal structures-circles of circles of circular dwellings, rectangular walls enclosing ever-smaller rectangles, and streets in which broad avenues branch down to tiny footpaths with striking geometric repetition. These indigenous fractals are not limited to architecture; their recursive patterns echo throughout many disparate African designs and knowledge systems.

Drawing on interviews with African designers, artists, and scientists, Ron Eglash investigates fractals in African architecture, traditional hairstyling, textiles, sculpture, painting, carving, metalwork, religion, games, practical craft, quantitative techniques, and symbolic systems. He also examines the political and social implications of the existence of African fractal geometry. His book makes a unique contribution to the study of mathematics, African culture, anthropology, and computer simulations.

Being Material

Edited by Marie-Pier Boucher, Stefan Helmreich, Leila W Kinney, Skylar Tibbits, Rebecca Uchill and Evan Ziporyn

Explorations of the many ways of being material in the digital age.

In his oracular 1995 book Being Digital, Nicholas Negroponte predicted that social relations, media, and commerce would move from the realm of “atoms to bits”—that human affairs would be increasingly untethered from the material world. And yet in 2019, an age dominated by the digital, we have not quite left the material world behind. In Being Material, artists and technologists explore the relationship of the digital to the material, demonstrating that processes that seem wholly immaterial function within material constraints. Digital technologies themselves, they remind us, are material things—constituted by atoms of gold, silver, silicon, copper, tin, tungsten, and more.

The contributors explore five modes of being material: programmable, wearable, livable, invisible, and audible. Their contributions take the form of reports, manifestos, philosophical essays, and artist portfolios, among other configurations. The book’s cover merges the possibilities of paper with those of the digital, featuring a bookmark-like card that, when “seen” by a smartphone, generates graphic arrangements that unlock films, music, and other dynamic content on the book’s website. At once artist’s book, digitally activated object, and collection of scholarship, this book both demonstrates and chronicles the many ways of being material.

Contributors Christina Agapakis, Azra Akšamija, Sandy Alexandre, Dewa Alit, George Barbastathis, Maya Beiser, Marie-Pier Boucher, Benjamin H. Bratton, Hussein Chalayan, Jim Cybulski, Tal Danino, Deborah G. Douglas, Arnold Dreyblatt, M. Amah Edoh, Michelle Tolini Finamore, Team Foldscope and Global Foldscope community, Ben Fry, Victor Gama, Stefan Helmreich, Hyphen-Labs, Leila Kinney, Rebecca Konte, Winona LaDuke, Brendan Landis, Grace Leslie, Bill Maurer, Lucy McRae, Tom Özden-Schilling, Trevor Paglen, Lisa Parks, Nadya Peek, Claire Pentecost, Manu Prakash,Casey Reas, Paweł Romańczuk, Natasha D. Schüll, Nick Shapiro, Skylar Tibbits, Rebecca Uchill, Evan ZiporynBook Design: E Roon KangElectronics, interactions, and product designer: Marcelo Coelho

https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/being-material

A Different Kind of Ethnography: Imaginative Practices and Creative Methodologies

Building on the sensory ethnographic trend in contemporary sociocultural anthropology, this collection introduces the idea of a different kind of ethnography: an imaginative and creative approach to anthropological inquiry that is collaborative, open-ended, embodied, affective, and experimental. The authors treat ethnography as a methodology that includes the whole process of ethnography, from being fully present while engaging with the experience to analyzing representing, and communicating the results, with the hope of capturing different kinds of knowledge and experiences

The book is structured around various methodologies-sensing, walking, writing, performing, and recording–and includes innovative exercises that allow both seasoned and aspiring ethnographers to develop a practice that can deepen and extend ethnographic inquiry.

Editors:

Denielle Elliot and Dara Culhane

University of Toronto Press