Engaging with Complexity

Engaging with Complexity

The artist and the scientist are often regarded as opposites. One is thought to value creativity, freedom, and self-exploration, while the other is understood to privilege rigour, rationality, and the discovery of truth. But of course in reality, both practices overlap in many respects. Scientists and artists both work to make sense of the world and their place in it, both being driven by a creative, curious imagination, and both choosing to be constrained by an evolving set of conventions and principles.

When a scientist makes a model or an artist paints, these constraints, imposed by the limitations of tools and materials, audiences, theories and ideas, space and time, restrict the scope of an activity, but in doing so they also enable it. They provide focus, drawing threads together, facilitating connections and conversations, canalising interactions — and, as a consequence, they can sometimes help to bring forth new forms of organisation and new understanding.

The collection of works exhibited here brings together several pieces by artist Tessa Coe. Tessa uses self-imposed informal constraints within her painting practice to help capture the stories that emerge from studies of real life biological systems. Her practice has been greatly enriched by discussions around the visualizations created by PhD researchers at the University of Southampton’s Institute for Complex Systems Simulation. These images arise from computational modelling research into a variety of complex systems: from micromagnetic materials and heated fluids to termite colonies and nature reserves.


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University of Southampton Hartley Library

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