Systems 01: Order and Chaos

Elsworth Kelly / November Painting

"In June of that year (1949), composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham visited his studio. This meeting, as well as Kelly's encounter with Jean (Hans) Arp's collages "arranged according to laws of chance" in February 1950, had a profound impact on the work of the young artist. Chance began to play an increasingly larger role in Kelly's works, such as 1950's November Painting, in which the artist cut up a discarded black and white drawing, dropped the pieces onto a board, and then glued them in place." (source)

Elsworth Kelly / Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance

While in Paris between 1948 and 1954, Ellsworth Kelly explored many new artistic strategies. Seeking to abandon figuration for abstraction, in 1950 he seized upon the randomness of collage made of cut-up pieces of his drawings. In a further effort to remove any semblance of a figurative image from his work, the next year he arranged collaged elements by chance on the systematic form of the grid. The fortuitous discovery in a Paris stationery shop of a stock of gummed papers in twenty colors led to eight collages entitled Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance; the present composition is the first in the series. With a method both systematic and random, Kelly took the small squares of colored paper and arranged them quickly and intuitively on the grid, as if by chance, using no system or scientific method except to proceed progressively from the grid's lateral sides toward the center. As a result of Kelly's instinctive and playful method of composing, try as one might, there is no scheme or pattern to discover in the arrangement of the colors in this vibrant collage. Innis Howe Shoemaker, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, 2009. (source)

Above Paintings by Julie Mehretu

The Powers Of 10

Symmetry from The Mercadantes on Vimeo.

Ants: Decentralized Order

Give a colony of garden ants a week and a pile of dirt, and they'll transform it into an underground edifice about the height of a skyscraper in an ant-scaled city. Without a blueprint or a leader, thousands of insects moving specks of dirt create a complex, spongelike structure with parallel levels connected by a network of tunnels. Some ant species even build living structures out of their bodies: army ants and fire ants in Central and South America assemble themselves into bridges that smooth their path on foraging expeditions, and certain types of fire ants cluster into makeshift rafts to escape floods.

How do insects with tiny brains engineer such impressive structures?

"People are finally starting to crack the problem of producing these structures, which are either made out of soil or the ants themselves," said Stephen Pratt, a biologist at Arizona State University. The organization of insect societies is a marquee example of a complex decentralized system that arises from the interactions of many individuals, he said.

Ants might even shed light on the complex organization of the organ we use to study them — the brain. The behavior of an ant community resembles the organization of neurons into a functioning brain, Hölldobler said. "Each neuron is relatively dumb, but if you take billions of neurons, they interact in a way that we have only scratched the surface of understanding." (source)