Faithfully Flat


Faithfully Flat


May 12 - June 9, 2014


Ly Hoang Ly (curator)


Visual artist and Fulbright Fellow Ly Hoang presents her work alongside selections from the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection

Faithfully in Latin is fideliter

Flat in Latin is planus 

The term Faithfully flat is occasionally used in the lesson Affine Grassmannian of Dr. Ngo Bao Chau, who is best known for proving the fundamental lemma for automorphic form proposed by Robert Langlands and Diana Shelstad. For example:

Lemma 4.1.  Let E be a G -torsor over Spec([[t]]).  Then there exists a faithfully

flat R -algebra, such that the induced G -torsor over Spec [[t]] is trivial. Moreover, there is an exact sequence of groupoids

Bun([[t]])  Bun(R  [[t]]) ⇒ Bun(R  [[t]])

if R  is a faithfully flat R -algebra and R  = R   . 

In our conversation, I asked Ngo Bao Chau how to visualize the term faithfully flat in terms of language in general. Dr. Ngo responded “While a screw is a threaded fastener used to hold objects together, faithfully flat can be visualized as a screw to hold the origin of modified mathematical patterns.”

I adopted the mathematical term faithfully flat as the title of my ongoing art project. This project, which is seemingly paradoxical to the meaning of the title, has arisen from my long-held fascination with the dislocation of language and the conceptual space opened up within interpretation. I am also concerned with the connection between language and its own visual form, in terms of structure and sound. I imagine these dislocations, gaps and shifts have been shaped in a world where languages are interpreted in different ways, structurally, systematically and vocally, where people lose each other and lose themselves, where all torn pieces of different cultures, histories and human knowledge are collaged together. Here, faithfully flat can be understood as ‘the virtual place’ that contains the crucial code to decipher any kind of languages. It holds the identity, the truth, and the origin. Does that place really exist? To explore the answer, I started my journey 16 months ago—thinking, reading, performing—building this phase-to-phase project.

This exhibition is the result of Phase One of the Faithfully Flat Project.

Phase One can be seen as an experimental laboratory, formed by a series of my performances without an audience, other than the 15 mathematics students sitting in the same room as me who were not aware that I was performing. This series of audience-less performances took place two days a week, for 1 hour and 50 minutes a day, at the Affine Grassmannian class under the instruction of Ngo Bao Chau, professor of Mathematics at The University of Chicago, from January 1 to March 13, 2014. Considering advanced mathematics as a language with limited accessibility to general people, in this performance I became a ‘sketch taker’ who didn’t understand a thing but just simply drew and wrote down in her sketchbook all the mathematical language and images that Dr. Ngo wrote on the black board to explain and prove his fundamental lemma to the students. Here, the artist, who had little access to the advanced mathematical language as images and as concepts, absorbed all words written on the black board. Following and imitating every white chalk line on the black board made by the mathematician, I put the ‘focal stress’ not on the time-based act of performing itself, but on the product or the aftermath created by the time-based performances which was to trace an unknown language through the performance artist. 

Dr. Ngo was invited to interact in Phase One by layering the transparent papers onto the sketches, page by page, where mathematical language was converted into visual language. Doing so, he would try to fill the gaps left by misinterpretation. In his effort to correct the sketches, he was also lost at times to understand what the performer had written down, and as a result, he would mark a smiley face or a question mark on top of the obscure image. To the artist, the mathematician has created a form of concrete poetry with an abstract spirit. The empty spaces formed around his words and symbols in the transparent papers can be seen as faithfully flat.

The products of these two audience-less durational performances—the sketches drawn by the artist and the corrections made by the mathematician, was sent to embroiderers to trace and embroider the lines in silver and black, respectively, onto thin silk. In this third process, the visual images and its languages have been shifted and modified once more.

In the last day of his Affine Grassmannian class, Dr. Ngo said “This is the end of this story.” I desire to open up this ending with a compulsive stream of layered visual images in sculptural form.  

This exhibition includes a selection of 58 artists’ books, which I curated, dealing with the conceptual and visual forms of language. Throughout the project, these books inspired me and shed light onto my research. My one-year internship at the Joan Flasch Artists’s Books Collection has allowed me to incorporate these important books into my project.  


This exhibition would not be possible without the collaboration of Dr. Ngo Bao Chau, support from the Joan Flasch Artists’ Books Collection of the John M. Flaxman Library Special Collections, and the Fulbright Program.

Table Of Contents

Faithfully Flat, Ly Hoang Ly, Z507.5 (created for the exhibition)

Drawing a hypothesis: figures of thought, Nikolaus Gansterer, RA 2.780  

Codex seraphinianus, Luigi Serafini,RA 1.194

The Nam, Fiona Banner, Z17.3

Wild Blue Yonder, Lawrence Weiner, RA 2.381

Listening for analogs: what 10 Polish words sound like to 20 speakers of English, Barbara Mackowiak, 15.5

Words don't make you better, James T. Struck, 18.63

Wonderwater (Alice Offshore), Roni Horn, Z6.8

Ooooobuuueeewoooeee booooogoooojeeee goooooogaaaaa gaaaadaaaa daaadeee, John Crombie,121.36

Frozen, Sungwoo Suh,3000.9

An Artist's Statement, Joseph Michael Winkler,83.9

Notations 21, Theresa Sauer,  RA 1.308

Hour 25, HKU architecture papers, 106.53

Various blank pages, Doro Boehme, 41.8

Tree of codes, Jonathan Safran Foer,RA 2.753

Gagarin: the artists in their own words ,Z22.24

Serge Segay, Rea Nikonova,117.44

Gnome baker, 107.80 (Storage)

Word vomit, Jillian Bruschera, 89.78

Incomplete open cubes, Sol LeWitt, RA 2.721

Word made flesh, Johanna Drucker, 4100.2

A Humument : a treated Victorian novel, Tom Phillips, 1700.9

The heart of a humument, Tom Phillips, 96.6

A humument, Tom Phillips, 82.59

Verbal landscape/dinosaur sat down, Nathan Lyons,119.8

Book II, Jane Logemann, 20.41

A series of performance books by Ida Applebroog


Learn more about Ly Hoang and her year long Fulbright sponsored internship at the Joan Flasch Artists' Book Collection here.

Faithfully Flat was subsequently exhibited at both Manzi Art Space and the Vietnamese Institute for Advanced Study of Mathematics, in Hanoi, Vietnam.


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Ly Hoang Ly (curator) , “Faithfully Flat
,” SAIC Flaxman Library & Special Collection Exhibitions, accessed August 17, 2018,