Korek Tetractys

Korek Tetractys

Today I took my bike for a spin into town to go to the weekly Gumusluk market. The market here is quite small but has nice fresh vegetables and a couple of stalls with beautiful fabrics. I bought 3 very inexpensive small table cloths, one handmade in beiges, browns, and a bit of gold, and two other machine made ones in red and gold and purplish-blue and gold. These I will use for my installations. I also zipped down to the harbour and sat by one of the marble seaside sculptures eating a spinach and cheese borek. Of course, the moment I sat down, a cat appeared and I shared my treat with it. Then, naturally, several other cats came rushing over, hoping for a bite.

I love korek plants – they are so strange looking, almost humanoid. The large flower-like heads have identical smaller flower-like heads protruding out of them. In some lights, and from some angles, these smaller appendages look like hands and fingers. I have been collecting them, both relatively fresh green ones and dry stalks, for installations. Since they are such interesting shapes, I had been wondering what these flowers would look like if illuminated by candle light from below. I also wondered what kind of shadows they’d cast against a white wall. 

Korek Tetractys detail

I set up a tableau of korek plants downstairs in the studio, including a wooden table, a wooden chair, two hands holding crepe paper ribbons, one large candle, and 17 small tealight candles. On the table I arranged ten flower heads in glasses filled with water in a triangular formation, called by the ancient Pythagoreans the tetractys, the number of the universe. Ten is the sum of the first four numbers, 4+3+2+1 – my korek flowers are arranged in rows representing this summation. The candles are also arranged in a triangular formation under and around the flowers, causing them to cast shadows on the wall behind. The water in the ten glasses moves ever so slightly, also causing interesting shadows to be created when illuminated by the twelve tiny candles. 

The Pythagoreans represented numbers by patterns of dots, probably a result of arranging pebbles into patterns. The resulting figures have given us the present word figures. Thus 9 pebbles can be arranged into 3 rows with 3 pebbles per row, forming a square. Similarly, 10 pebbles can be arranged into four rows, containing 1, 2, 3, and 4 pebbles per row, forming a triangle.

One particular triangular number that the Pythagoreans especially liked was the number ten. It was called a Tetractys, meaning a set of four things, a word attributed to the Greek Mathematician and astronomer Theon (c. 100 CE). The Pythagoreans identified ten such sets.

Ten Sets of Four Things

Numbers 1 2 3 4
Magnitudes point line surface solid
Elements fire air water earth
Figures pyramid octahedron icosahedron cube
Living Things seed growth in length in breadth in thickness
Societies man village city nation
Faculties reason knowledge opinion sensation
Seasons spring summer autumn winter
Ages of a Person infancy youth adulthood old age
Parts of living things body   three parts of the soul  

Read more about the Pythagoreans here.

See pictures here.