Visual and Material Culture: Course

Chaos, Randomness, Non-Design

Michalowicz Jerzy, Semester 1, Sunday, 10:30-12:00
We will begin with the exploration of the variety of meanings of the notion of chaos (from physics and mathematics up to everyday language): disorder, uncertainty, indeterminacy, fuzziness, randomness, lack of control, chaos as a physical, psychological, social and visual reality, as a relative vs. absolute concept, as infinity of alternatives to itself, as incompressibility into any pattern, etc. We shall then address various visual representations of chaos, such as stain, pile, "mess", "fog", etc. From here we shall move to the place of chaos in creation mythologies, particularly the place of water and mud in various myths and traditional accounts of creation. This discussion shall lead us to the way religious thought structures physical space with the help of the concept of "axis mundi", which divides space into structure and chaos ("antipodes", "barbarians", "monsters", etc.), while contrasting it with the modern, scientific concept of undifferentiated space, which began with the dethroning of Earth as the center of the universe by the Copernican revolution in astronomy. In this context we shall explore briefly the concept of morphological space, i.e. all the possible alternatives of an organism/object. From here we shall move onto the place of chaos in art, first, by addressing the notion of chaos as a catalyst of artistic imagination as articulated by artists such as Guo-Xi, Botticelli, da-Vinci, Cozzens, and others, while discussing the modern psychoanalytic theory of de-differentiation. This will bring us to chaos as a subject of art works, beginning with sea-storm paintings by W. Turner, through the late water-lily paintings by Monet, the Dada artists' portrayals of randomness, particularly the collages of K. Schwitters, up to contemporary artists (B. Venet, T. Takahashi, and others) who deal with the issue of "engineered randomness). We shall conclude with the issue of "non-design", i.e. design without intelligent designer, beginning with animal architecture, through 'geological design', up to "entropic design" (decomposition, degeneration, falling into disuse, etc.) which operates on designed environment, particularly architecture.