Blackbaord with scientific writing

Prime Playing blackboard drawings by Margaret Wertheim and Rich Nielsen, at the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Photo by Margaret Wertheim for the Institute For Figuring

The Institute For Figuring is a non-profit, Los Angeles-based organization founded by Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim. The IFF’s mission is to contribute to the public understanding of scientific and mathematical themes through innovative programming that includes exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and participatory, community-based projects such as the Crochet Coral Reef. Our acronym, IFF, is the logical symbol for “if and only if”, one of the primary “operators” underlying modern computing. “If and only if” (IFF) also refers to the possibilities when imaginative constraints are relaxed and the mind is capitulated into the field to play.

The Institute’s interests are twofold: the manifestation of figures in the world around us, and the figurative technologies humans have developed through the ages. From the physics of snowflakes and the hyperbolic geometry of sea slugs, to the mathematics of paper folding and graphical models of the human mind, the Institute takes as its purview a complex ecology of figuring.

At the core of the IFF’s work is the concept of material play. We believe that ideas usually presented in abstract terms can often be embodied in physical activities, delighting audiences via kindergarten-like practices. Through activities such as cutting and folding paper, and other simple handicrafts, we affirm that the hands and eyes can serve as guides to developing the human mind. By inviting audiences to play with ideas, the IFF offers a hands-on approach to public science engagement at once intellectually rigorous and aesthetically aware.

Founded in 2003 by Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim, the IFF has developed exhibitions and programs for museums, galleries, colleges, and other cultural organizations. We have worked with the Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh), Hayward Gallery (London), Science Gallery (Dublin), New Children’s Museum (San Diego), Art Center College of Design (Pasadena), University of California Santa Cruz (CA), University of Southern California (Los Angeles), Museum of Jurassic Technology (Los Angeles), Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.), and many others.

The IFF’s Crochet Coral Reef is now one of the largest participatory science + art projects in the world, having engaged more than 15,000 active participants in 42 cities and countries – including Chicago, London, New York,  Melbourne, Germany, Latvia, Japan, and the UAE –  plus over 2 million exhibition visitors.

The IFF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. All donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

Chalk drawing
Chalk drawing

2019 Venice Biennale Mathematics Blackboard, depicting diagrams of non-Euclidean and hyperbolic geometry by Margaret Wertheim. Blackboard sponsored by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI). Photos © Institute For Figuring.