Complexity / Art And Complex Systems
Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art
State University of New York, New Paltz, NY, U.S.A.
September 14-November 24, 2002.
Online catalog (pdf): http://www.newpaltz.edu/museum/exhibitions/complexity.pdf
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
Brian Schwartz, Ph.D.
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York
How do you understand and illuminate the behavior of the world when
you know there are rules and regularities, yet the outcomes are unpredictable
and often irreproducible? How does the scientist proceed? How should
the artist proceed?
For example, since in complexity theory the outcome is often unpredictable,
how should the artist intercede? Is there a definite endpoint, or can
one even be bolder and remove the artist and let an automaton-like process
take over? What if one gives the same rules to two artists or two scientists;
what would complexity yield?
These and other questions are the focus of the exhibition Complexity
/ Art And Complex Systems. The exhibited art utilizes ingredients
of complexity itself, demonstrating such concepts as multiple agents,
non-linearity effects and emergent phenomena.
Complexity is, on first and last examination, full of lush beauty
as well as ideas. Many of the works are the results of the application
of a strict procedure, but the results are buoyant.
Some pieces convey the world we are familiar with, upended.
Jack Ox's Color Organ Still Shot #5 offers a deft marriage of
the organic and the digital. In the large print, forms are defined by
masterful drawing. The defining hatch marks are digitally manipulated,
however; in one instance mirrored as in a Rorschach blot. The drawing
is of a landscape invaded by an ordered progression of bar chart-like
color elements that graph patterns in music.
Similarly, Frank Gillette's digital prints have the veracity of landscape
as captured by a camera, but the landscape is morphed into hallucinogenic
light and pattern unknown in this world.
Deliberation, Planning and Chance
Daniel Reynolds is represented by a large painting of poured
polyurethane and enamels, materials that are immiscible. The paints
gather and repel into pools by chance, but with enough regularity to
appear to be pre-determined. The forms resemble microscopic organisms,
squirming with vitality.
Behind frosted Plexiglas, 56 red lights in an eight by seven grid turn
on and off in an apparently random pattern. Can we decipher the code?
If we step back far enough, can we discern an image? There is a seductive,
insistent pulse to Red Life by Leo Villareal; appropriate because
it is an approximation of Life. The piece is adapted from Conway's Game
of Life, a mathematical set of birth, death and survival rules.
Janet Cohen's work also asks us to analyze structure and the significance
of integers, in this case, in baseball stats. Baseball is a canny subject
for her attention. A casual pastime for most of us, the game can be
seen as a sum of opportunities tipped one way or another by quantifiable
but highly unpredictable factors. Cohen's nervous notations echo the
stress of the passionate fan.
Eight-Bit Ant Farm by Remo Campopiano, Guy Marsden and Jonathan
Schull is a collaborative effort of art, social science and engineering.
The piece makes use of the behavior of a living social system (ant colony),
electromechanically connected to eight by eight grids of ping-pong balls
that react via motion and color. Complexity abounds in the behavior
of the ants, the choices in illustrating and activating the motion and
colors of the grids and in the computer display. http://www.remo.net/complexity
Simple and Complex
Manuel Baez's two sculptures dominate the show with their sheer
size and irresistible charm. Their construction is simple. Hundreds
of bamboo sticks, each the thickness of a matchstick, are cinched at
intersections with white rubber bands. Baez invokes a set of rules for
generation, exploiting the tensile strength of simple structures. In
his larger piece, he ends up with a soaring structural backbone -- a
hybrid-image of a DNA-like spinal cord -- with extending microelements.
He observes a strict regularity in building the forms, but the materials
themselves impose a playful irregularity. http://www.nyfa.org/nyfa_artists_detail.asp?pid=409
Hans Haackes Condensation Cube, from 1963/1965, a Lucite
box containing water with condensation on its sides, predates and predicts
further study of complexity by artists. The work is spare but infinitely
nuanced, focusing our attention on weather, the most familiar example
of a complex system. http://www.macba.es/catala/04/04_02_190.html
The inclusion of this work and early videos by Woody and Steina Vasulka
gives context to the newer work.
Complexity raises interesting questions. The works exhibited
are not merely explication or illustration. The wide range of work is
testament to the breadth of the influence of complexity theory, but
also to the refreshing, non-parochial approach taken by the curators.
While complex systems may be self-organizing, no exhibition is. This
excellent show was organized under the curatorial direction of Ellen
K. Levy and Philip Galanter.
[Leonardo Digital Reviews is pleased to be able
to report on this exhibition thanks to the collaboration of Adrienne
Klein and Brian Schwartz]
ADRIENNE KLEIN is an artist, teacher, curator, and
administrator. She has had nine solo exhibitions and has been included
in more than fifty exhibitions in the United States and Europe. She
teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
A special area of Kleins interest is the intersection
of art and science. She organizes events for The Graduate Center of
The City University of New York's Science and the Arts program.
She is Editor of the online bulletin of the organization Art and Science
Collaborations, Inc. Klein received an Individual Artist Grant from
the New York State Council on the Arts in 1998 to further her investigations
in art and science.
Klein was Director of Rathbone Gallery in Albany,
NY from 1988 to 1992. She has independently curated exhibitions for,
among others, the Gallery Association of New York State, Union
College, and New
York University. Her exhibition for GANYS,
Alert, an international survey of
AIDS posters, was exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1998.
Klein served on the Board of Governors of the New
York Foundation for the Arts from 1992 to 1995.
BRIAN SCHWARTZ is Professor of Physics and Vice
President for Research and Sponsored Programs at The Graduate Center
of the City University of New York and is responsible for the innovative
Science and the Arts Series. He is currently producing a musical
play based on the novel Einsteins Dreams by Alan Lightman.
He obtained his undergraduate degree from City College of New York and
his Ph.D. degree from Brown University. He spent 12 years at MIT as
a researcher and faculty member followed by ten years as an administrator
at Brooklyn College. He was in charge of the centennial program of the
American Physical Society celebrated in March of 1999 in Atlanta where
he organized the first-ever physics festival. As a lasting centennial
memento, he produced an artistic wall chart and web site for a timeline
entitled A Century of Physics.
Schwartz was responsible for organizing symposia
at the Smithsonian Institution and The Graduate Center addressing the
play Copenhagen. For Spring 2003, he is producing events at the
Graduate Center, in association with the exhibition Genomic Issue(s):
Art and Science celebrating the 50th anniversary of the discovery
of the helical structure of DNA.
Schwartz has edited 8 books and published over 120
scientific and educational articles