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Representing Complexity: Intersections of Art and Science (2013)

This symposium will ask how the challenges of representing complex phenomena—whether in language, film, computer modeling, or other media—affect our understanding of it.

Event Information

Many of the most pressing social and ecological issues, from climate change to turbulence in financial markets, grassroots protests to antibiotic resistance, are essentially case studies in complexity. So too are many of the most exciting technological innovations and fields of theoretical inquiry, from CGI animation to Wikipedia, systems theory to “object-oriented ontology,” network analysis to emergence.

Furthermore, how does the question of representation provide a register for common inquiry across methodological and disciplinary grounds? We bring together scholars in a wide array of fields including linguistics, computer science, neuroscience, philosophy, literary studies, and media studies, to explore the intersections (and disconnections) between the representation of complexity in the arts, sciences, and humanities.

February 28, 2013
1:00 - 8:00 PM
2115 Tawes Hall and other locations as noted

Friday, March 1, 2013
10:00 am-6:00 pm
2115 Tawes

This symposium is free and open to the public. To reserve a space and to assist with catering arrangements, please send email to Karen Nelson (


Thursday, February 28, 2013

1:00 pm Modeling and Materiality: From Simulation to Swarms. 2115 Tawes.
Complexity, almost by definition, eludes direct experience. Instead, we can process it only through models, from games to novels, time-lapse images to computer simulations. How do the challenges of modeling themselves contribute to our understanding of complexity?

  • Mass Ornament to MASSIVE: Film Theory and Digital Animation
    Oliver Gaycken, University of Maryland (English; Film Studies)
  • Inner and Outer Theatres: From Brain Simulations and Mirror Neuron Systems to Social Media Networks--and Back Again
    Mark Pizzato, University of North Carolina-Charlotte (Theatre; Complex Systems Institute)
  • Modeling the Complex Network of Social Media
    William Rand, University of Maryland (Business; Center for Complexity in Business)
  • Moderator: William Cohen, University of Maryland (English)

2:30 pm From the Micro to the Macro: Patterns, Networks, Scale. 2115 Tawes
How does the study of complexity, especially in relation to patterns and networked connections, provide critical apparatus for addressing and theorizing questions of scale?

  • Complexity to Clarity: A Visual Analytic Sonata with Four Movements
    Ben Shneiderman, University of Maryland (Computer Science; Information Studies)
  • Visions of Encyclopedic Knowledge from Diderot to WikiData
    Melanie Kill, University of Maryland (English; Digital Studies)
  • Picturing the Cosmos
    Brooke Belisle, University of California-Berkeley (Rhetoric, Film, and New Media)
  • Moderator: Gerard Passannante, University of Maryland (English)

5:00 pm Art Exhibition: Visualizing Complexity. Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, 4213 Art/Sociology Building

  • Mapping Meaning (ongoing)
    Krista Caballero, University of Maryland (Digital Cultures and Creativity)
  • Amblyopia (2011)
    Brandon Morse, University of Maryland (Art)
  • Butterfly Effects (2006)
    Tara Rodgers, University of Maryland (Women's Studies; Musicology and Ethnomusicology)

6:00 pm Dinner Reception with Artist Statements. 2309 Art/Sociology Building

  • Krista Caballero, University of Maryland (Digital Cultures and Creativity)
  • Brandon Morse, University of Maryland (Art)
  • Moderator: Joshua Shannon, University of Maryland (Art History)

Friday, March 1, 2013

10:00 am Vibrancy: Thinking, Feeling, Assembling, Acting. 2115 Tawes
How do assemblages—whether cells, neurons, bees, or people—come to “life” as entities with attributes beyond any of their constituent parts? How do such systems come complexly to think? To know? To act? To communicate? 

  • Epigenetic Landscapes in the Anthropocene: The Art of Assembling
    Susan Merrill Squier, Pennsylvania State University (Women's Studies; English)
  • Reclaiming Autism, Reclaiming Complexity
    Joseph Valente, University of Buffalo (English; Disability Studies)
  • The Emergence of Biological Complexity
    Joelle Presson, University of Maryland (Undergraduate Academic Programs; Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences)
  • Moderator: Michael Israel, University of Maryland (English; Neuro- and Cognitive Science; Linguistics)

11:30 am Temporality and Time: Evolution, Emergence, History. 2115 Tawes
Simple, discrete actions or events repeated over time giving rise to highly ordered complex forms. That definition is equally applicable to biological evolution, the principle of emergence, and human history. Does this provide a way of integrating these often-divergent fields?

  • The Ecological Pharmacology of Media
    Mark B. N. Hansen, Duke University (Literature)
  • Stone-Age Minds: The Literary History of Evolutionary Psychology
    Dana Carluccio, University of Maryland (Honors Humanities)
  • Conceptual Emergence and the Novel
    Jesse Oak Taylor, University of Maryland (English)
  • Moderator: Lindley Darden, University of Maryland (Philosophy)

2:30 pm Form: Aesthetic, Social, Biological. 2115 Tawes 
One thing that links all the above topics together is the question of form, whether of organisms, social systems, literary texts, computer models, or films. How does aesthetic form and the methodological practices associated with it (close reading, etc.) relate to an understanding of form in other contexts. 

  • Critical Play: Gaming, Reading, Writing
    D. Graham Burnett, Princeton University (History)
  • Forms: Simple Alone, Complex Together
    Caroline Levine, University of Wisconsin-Madison (English)
  • Being Complex: Physiological Optics and Impersonal Form
    Christina Walter, University of Maryland (English)
  • Moderator: Jason Rudy, University of Maryland (English)

4:00 pm Concluding Roundtable: Representing Complexity. 2115 Tawes

  • Mark B. N. Hansen, Duke University (Literature)
  • Katie King, University of Maryland (Women's Studies)
  • Lee Konstantinou, University of Maryland (English)
  • Mark Pizzato, University of North Carolina-Charlotte (Theater; Complex Systems Institute)
  • Jesse Oak Taylor, University of Maryland (English)

5:30 pm Closing Reception. Second Floor Lobby, Tawes


Sponsored by the Center for Literary and Comparative Studies, the Department of English, the College of Arts and Humanities, the Graduate School, and the Division of Research.

Organizers & Planning Committee

Conference planning committee: Oliver Gaycken; Jesse Oak Taylor; Christina Walter; Karen Nelson; Zita Nunes.

For more information contact: Karen Nelson (

Conference Visitor Information

Find information on parking, lodging and transportation to the University of Maryland.