i²=j²=k²=ijk=-1 - sand sculpture
For the 2012 Dublin sand sculpture exhibition, we decided on 'Bright Sparks' as our theme wanting to celebrate Irish science/ scientists. I chose Rowan Hamilton as I remembered the stories about him from my parents, who lived in the area where he was based a century before. I also thought it would be interesting to find out more about him. By the age of 9 he knew 13 languages and from all accounts was a real smarty pants.
Rowan Hamilton (1805-1864) was an Irish astronomer at Dunsink observatory. He was a professor at Trinity College Dublin and was made Royal Astronomer of Ireland. Having added the terms Scalar and Vector to mathematics he had a problem of how to represent rotation in 3 dimensions. The story goes that as he toiled over this problem in his head he took a walk with his wife along the Royal Canal and it hit him. He had to look in the 4th Dimension to make it work. All excited by his cleverness and with no paper to hand he scratched the above formula i²=j²=k²=ijk=-1 into Broom/ Brougham bridge. It has long since faded. (Yes I looked) but in its place is a plaque telling the tale.
In some ways, I had the same problem as Hamilton (with less of the brains to work it out). How do I represent this in a sculpture? I thought about how I could bring it to another dimension and see if that could help me make sense of it all. I have experimented lots with forced perspective in my work and decided on an idea of mixing many different perspectives like a snapshot of how I saw his mind trying to understand dimensions.
Each of the forms were meant to be like a box with a mini Hamilton inside looked at from all angles. The effect gave a very interesting optical illusion which only worked when looking straight on.
On the other side of the sculpture, I created a bit more obvious scene of that eureka moment. Hamilton scratches the formula while his wife peers of his shoulder. Behind every great man has to be a great woman. Although it was not my favourite side of the sculpture it has been used on book covers and each year as part of the celebrations of Hamilton's life.
Again I used some forced perspective. This time to deal with the shape of the block I had and show the characters and bridge from an interesting angle.
What Hamilton had discovered became known as Quaternions and is very important in space exploration and 3d computer game mechanics. A few months after I completed the sculpture I was contacted by the Irish Mathematics Society and asked to come to Dunsink Observatory for their yearly celebration of his work and a walk along the canal to Broom Bridge which is a yearly pilgrimage they do. It was so nice to talk about my work with such a different group of people.
"Time is said to have only one dimension, and space to have three dimensions. ... The mathematical quaternion partakes of both these elements; in technical language it may be said to be 'time plus space', or 'space plus time': and in this sense it has, or at least involves a reference to, four dimensions. And how the One of Time, of Space the Three, Might in the Chain of Symbols girdled be."—William Rowan Hamilton (quoted in Robert Percival Graves' "Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton" (3 volumes, 1882, 1885, 1889))