Amazing Acrobats

George W. Hart

Here is strength in numbers! This 3-foot diameter sculpture is part of the Math Midway exhibit for the Museum of Mathematics. There are 60 acrobats (or "strong men") holding each other up in complex arrangement.  It is based on my People sculpture, but for the midway theme, we adjusted their outline to be more acrobatic. The parts are water-jet cut from six colors of "Sintra" plastic (which is a brand name for PVC made lighter into a foamboard) with a small metal connector for joining them together. (A hi-res version of this image is available here.)

As part of the Math Midway exhibit, we wanted a reconstructable sculpture which can be repeatedly assembled and disassembled. The parts easily screw together if you can keep track of the correct pattern for assembly. We ran a "sculpture barn raising" event in which lots of people worked with me on the construction. The matching rule is to connect "back arms" to "back legs" in cycles of five, alternating over and under to make a kind of star knot.  In the images above, these groups of five are always in a single color. Then twelve of these groups assemble like a dodecahedron, using connectors on the front arms and front legs.

We built two copies of Amazing Acrobats on the day of the World Science Festival street fair. They have the same geometry but different coloring patterns.  The one at left in this image follows a simple coloring scheme where groups of five parts are the same color and twelve of these groups assemble like a dodecahedron. In the one at right above, we used a random coloring pattern.  There are also some interesting, symmetric, 5-color and 6-color patterns that can be used for assembling the parts.  But we have not yet had a chance to build them.

The above image shows a nice 6-coloring in which large circles of five are each a single color.  The circles are seen by following only the front-arm-to-front-leg connections.  In some sense, these are the next larger cycles around the star-shaped cycles that are single-colorid in the first coloring, shown at the top of the page.

Above is a 1-color, 3-inch diameter, nylon model.

More strength in numbers! Here's Amazing Acrobats with Glen Whitney and Cindy Lawrence, who made the Math Midway exhibit happen. Many other people were involved as well. I specified the general form of this sculpture, then the detailed choice of materials, colors, connector design, and character outline is the result of collaborating with many folks at Ralph Applebaum Associates and Showman Fabricators. Thank you all, especially Tim Nissen, Rosanna Vitiello, Tommy Matthews, and Justin Kurtz.

Copyright 2009, George W. Hart