Spring 2009

Making the Invisible Visible: Symmetry, Chaos, and Patterns in Everyday Systems

Listed in: Art and the History of Art, as ARHA-92


Nathalie J. Miebach (Section 02)


What do weather patterns, cyberspace, traffic jams, video games, and snow crystals have in common? All of them are examples of hidden systems based on certain characteristics or rules that determine their shape and behavior. In this course, we will use art making as a “research tool” to discover, examine and visualize hidden systems that surround us everyday. These systems can be natural, human-made, visible, non-visible, linear, chaotic, etc. Some of the questions we will ponder are: What constitutes a system? What is a behavior or pattern? Why do they come about? How can one see/study these systems visually? What role does the visual play in the translation of these systems? The aim of this course is to provide a platform on which to examine critically how the visualization of information shapes our understanding of things. Using systems as a jumping off point into this discussion, weekly slide lectures, readings, class discussions and visiting lecturers will draw from a range of interdisciplinary sources from mathematics, science, art history, music and sociology to look at how humans have gone about studying the structure, behavior and existence of systems from a molecular level to the cosmos. We will also avail ourselves of the resources available at the Amherst College Museum of Natural History, the Mead Art Museum and other nearby museums. Through visual translations in both 2D and 3D, students will explore visible/invisible systems of everyday life. Students will learn various visual approaches to observations, creating hypotheses and building experiments to test their findings. Through their studio work, research and class discussions, students will critically analyze the power of visualizing that which is invisible, its limitations, its potential and how it influences what and how we learn. Limited to 12 students. Offered once Spring semester. Artist-in-Residence Miebach.