Interview with Katja Stefanie Engstler on the "Forms and Forces" tour

October 5, 2022

Portraits in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Stuttgart.

What is behind the tour "Forms and Forces"?

The tour examines ten art objects on the Vaihingen campus for their mathematical or physical background. What is astonishing is that you have passed by most of the objects many times before, and now they appear in a completely different perspective. There is an infinite amount of mathematics and physics in our immediate environment. I was very enthusiastic about that. In order to pass on this enthusiasm, we, that is Prof. Markus Stroppel, Dr. Marc Scheffler and I, have also created an activity sheet for children between the ages of 8-12. We hope that everyone will find something to interest them. 

It was important to us that you can explore the tour not only as a guided tour, but also by yourself with your smartphone. The tour can be accessed online [DE] and there are interactive elements in it that you can try out right on the spot. 

How did you come up with the idea of looking for mathematics and physics in the art objects?

The idea came from Prof. Stroppel, who had long ago mathematically investigated the snail staircase and its unwinding. He approached me with the idea of a tour because I am in charge of the collection of mathematical models at the department and have also made it accessible online. 

Together with Dr. Scheffler, who works on the interplay between physics and art, we came across the "Learning Street." This connects the area between the bus loop and the refectory and was designed between 1978 and 1985 by the artist group "Kunst und Zwischenraum" with various art objects.  We picked out ten of the objects and developed mathematical and physical ideas from them. 

Were there any surprises?

Some art objects we did not discover at first sight. For example, the inventory list of the university building office showed us that the "empty chair mosaic" is located on the square between the civil engineering building and the "House of Students". But it was only from the escape balcony on the top floor of the building that we recognized the strange shape of the paving stones as a projection of the "empty chair" sculpture. So there were several eureka moments. 

Unfortunately, many objects are in poor condition or have lost parts and thus often their message. We hope that through our tour, the objects of the Learning Street will regain a greater appreciation - and perhaps a new coat of paint. 

And what's next?

What I liked most about this project was the pragmatic approach and the speed (four months) with which the homepage, brochure and all other materials were created. I don't like projects with endless duration, stagnation and long decision-making processes. And so I look forward to the creation of another tour - our campus still has many interesting objects to offer. 

Thank you very much for the interview.

Katja Stefanie Engstler
Institute of Geometry and Topology
Institute of Analysis, Dynamic und Modeling

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