Neri Oxman and Materialecology

Ab Ex at the MOMA

The works of Abstract Expressionists are on view on multiple floors at the MOMA right now. Worth the visit, but it wasn’t a heart stopper for me. It felt more like the obligatory pilgrimage devout Catholics make to the Vatican out of respect rather than passion. My MOMA moments of inspirational highs came elsewhere.

One was a small wall exhibit in the Design galleries that featured the work of Neri Oxman, a scientist at MIT. Originally derived as part of her research into natural forms and design, the artifacts on display were beguiling and visually startling. I was on my iphone immediately researching more about Oxman and her work. Wow, wow, wow.

Structures by Neri Oxman based on microscale models of a leaf section, a butterfly wing and a scorpion paw

On the left:
Cartesian wax, a project that explores the notion of “material organization as it is informed by structural and environmental performance: a continuous tiling system is differentiated across its entire surface area to accommodate for a range of conditions accommodating for light transmission, heat flux, and structural support. The surface is thickened locally where it is structurally required to support itself.”

On the right:
Raycounting, a method for originating form by “registering the intensity and orientation of light rays. 3-D surfaces of double curvature are the result of assigning light parameters to flat planes.”

Oxman’s work is fascinating and so is her persona: She is a winner of The Earth Awards and #43 on Fast Company’s list of Most Creative People in Business. Brilliant, gorgeous and only 33 years old, Oxman is a rock star for a new era of synthesis, innovation and breakthrough thinking.

From Oxman’s website, here is her description of what she calls “materialecology”:

An interdisciplinary research initiative that undertakes design research in the intersection between architecture, engineering, computation, biology and ecology. As such, this initiative is concerned with material organization and performance across all scales of design thought and practice. Material is interpreted merely as any physical entity which corresponds and reacts with its environment. As such, it seeks to promote and define a design research agenda which is ecological in nature, in ideology and in material practice; it aims at embracing the evolving elements of change in both (and indeed related) social constructs and environmental descriptions of the ever changing built environment.

Paola Antonelli, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, acquired some of Oxman’s pieces for inclusion in a recent design show and said that “what was amazing about this work is that it uses the computer to transform the secrets of nature into algorithms, and in a biomimetic way to try to use the same stratagems nature uses.” It is not surprising that her pieces are now showing up in museums and biennials all over the world.

Two quotes Oxman included on her site speak to her approach. (Keepers for sure, especially Thoreau’s line, “I milk the sky and the earth”):

“I make it my business to extract from Nature whatever nutriment she can furnish me, though at the risk of endless iteration. I milk the sky and the earth.” (Henry David Thoreau, Journal, 1817-1862)

“The different branches of science combine to demonstrate that the universe in its entirety can be regarded as one gigantic process, a process of becoming, of attaining new levels of existence and organization, which can properly be called a genesis or an evolution” (Thomas H. Huxley, 1825 – 1895).

For more about Neri Oxman and Materialecology:

Lots of images can be viewed on Neri Oxman’s blog, Materialecology, and her website.

To watch Oxman’s presentation to Pop Tech! last year, go here.

One Reply to “Neri Oxman and Materialecology”

  1. I clicked over to Oxman’s site. She’s fabulous.

    Tweeted your posts.

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