John Sims Wants to Have His Pi, and See It Too



Local math artist John Sims brings a Pi Day celebration 20 years in the making and fresh out of the oven to Grace Howl Contemporary Art this Thursday, March 14, with American Pi: Visions from a Math Artist. Uniting math, art, craft and community into one massive and multi-media project, Sims will unveil handmade dresses and quilts, prints, video projects and more, all made in a decades-long exploration of the unending digits of the famous constant, and his attempts to visualize its beauty. The exhibition will run through April 18, closing with a special event to commemorate Sims’ prominent inclusion in the upcoming book, Math Art: Truth, Beauty and Equations, written by Stephen Ornes and hitting shelves April 16.

A former professor at Ringling College of Art and Design, Sims’ fascination with pi predates his attempts to convince students of its mathematical beauty and outlasted his stay, forming a through-line as varied yet constant as its object. “Math is a universal language,” he says, “being able to speak to the relationship between abstract ideas, across language, across ethnic groups and across cultural backgrounds.” The question became how to capture the dynamic beauty of something seen as so logical and static—despite its unending and non-repeating nature—and celebrate what it signals at its core—a connection inherent in all things, and all peoples. “It becomes very universal, particularly when we start to think about physics, chemistry and the sciences,” Sims says. “It’s the infrastructural language to talk about the way we quantify the universe, to be able to explain, measure and think about it, and provide shape for the physics of our reality and beyond.”

The exploration takes many forms, seeing Sims visualizing pi in black-and-white squares on five hand-stitched dresses, and even enlisting the help of the artisans at Alma Sue Quilt Shop to create four quilts and “expand the metaphor” to more overtly introduce a communal aspect. He translated the constant into binary and then into trinary, creating a tricolor representation entitled American Pi. Sims even transposed the number into base seven—the key of b flat, to be precise—and wrote a 12-bar blues song called Blue Pi, which audiences can listen to. And at the afterparty, hosted at The Overton, attendees can view music videos created by the artist, with the first 180 digits of pi serving as lyrics

“The art provides the language to be able to talk about other things—the metaphysics, the metaphors, the sensory-driven spaces,” he says. “It gives us an opportunity to talk about the things that are not quantifiable but qualitative. Being able to create a solution between the two is the space I’m working in as an artist.”

American Pi: Visions from a Math Artist opens tomorrow, March 14, at Grace Howl Contemporary Art, with a reception at 6pm and an afterparty at The Overton at 8pm.

Pictured: "American Pi" by John Sims. Image courtesy of the artist.

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