Ad Asteroid

Janani Lakshmanan

April 27, 2020

Major: Mathematics (Astronomy minor)

Genre/Medium: Hasta Cipher, pen & ink, Pixelmator

About the work: Asamyutha hastas, the narrative alphabet of Bharatanatyam, are a form of sign language representing common words and symbols (flag, lion, bracelet) as well as dependent and independent clauses (“Once upon a time-,” “The flower blooms and withers,”) with a single hand gesture. Using them in dance has turned me into a person who speaks with my hands, but I have always admired the elegance and parsimony with which complex ideas can be conveyed without the use of intelligible speech at all. With this piece, I abstracted the shapes of the twenty-eight asamyutha hastas and devised an entirely novel alphabet — a substitution cipher that pleases the crypto-geek mathematician. I requested a collaboration with the incredible Binh-An Ngyuen. Her “Seeing Psyche” inspired me when she first presented it, for both its stark visual contrast and its interactive nature. She was gracious enough to allow me to use her cutout of Psyche the asteroid as the foundation for my piece. I had the enjoyable experience of reading a captivating paper by Dr. Elkins-Tanton and the rest of the Psyche mission’s team a few weeks ago, which was titled “Observations, Meteorites, and Models: A Preflight Assessment of the Composition and Formation of (16) Psyche.” I felt that the piece managed to convey (in crisp, efficient, scientific vocabulary, no less) a sense of wonderment and anticipation of the revision of previous hypotheses and even current ones, eagerly awaiting the launch and orbit of the spacecraft. I chose to encrypt the paper’s abstract in my alphabet and hand lettering a color-inverted version of Binh-An’s Psyche. Try decoding some of it yourself, or perhaps encrypting something entirely new! I scattered a few secret details in amongst the letters. When I reverted the colors, the asteroid appeared to stand proud atop a stellar background.

Date Added: 04-28-2020
Credit: Janani Lakshmanan

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