April 12, 2005

gold- and silver-wrapped threads....

I recommend this New Yorker article, Capturing the Unicorn, by Richard Preston. It's about the famous Unicorn Tapestries, and a project to clean and refurbish them (fascinating in itself), and to photograph them digitally. The photography was done but then no software could manage to stitch together the small and very detailed digital images, which fill 200 CD's, into pictures of whole tapestries.

...In 1992, I wrote in this magazine about two mathematicians named Gregory and David Chudnovsky The Chudnovskys, who are brothers, were born in Kiev They are number theorists—they investigate the propertie of numbers—and they design and work wit supercomputers. The Chudnovsky brothers insist that the are functionally one mathematician who happens to occupy two human bodies...

The two brothers undertook to produce the images on a supercomputer they had built from mail-order parts.

..."We thought to ourselves that it would be just a bit of number crunching,” Gregory said

But, David said, “it wasn’t trivial.”

The brothers had a fairly easy time setting up the tiles on It. When they tried to fit the puzzle pieces together, however, they wouldn’t join properly—the warp and weft threads didn’t run smoothly from one tile to the next. The differences were vast. It was as if a tapestry had not been the same object from one moment to the next as it was being photographed...

...The tapestries, they realized, had changed shape as they were lying on the floor and being photographed. They had been hanging vertically for centuries; when they were placed on the floor, the warp threads relaxed. The tapestries began to breathe, expanding, contracting, shifting. It was as if, when the conservators removed the backing, the tapestries had woken up. The threads twisted and rotated restlessly. Tiny changes in temperature and humidity in the room had caused the tapestries to shrink or expand from hour to hour, from minute to minute. The gold- and silver-wrapped threads changed shape at different speeds and in different ways from the wool and silk threads....
Posted by John Weidner at April 12, 2005 9:23 PM
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