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We present experimental results on the transverse modulation instability of an elliptical beam propagating in a bulk nonlinear Kerr medium, and the formation and self-organization of spatial solitons. We have observed the emergence of order, self organization and a transition to an unstable state. Order emerges through the formation of spatial solitons in a periodic array. If the initial period of the array is unstable the solitons will tend to self-organize into a larger (more stable) period. Finally the system transitions to a disordered state where most of the solitons disappear and the beam profile becomes unstable to small changes in the input energy. © 2005 Optical Society of America.