Experimental art overshadows Brad Pitt
Her visionary art and architectural projects are legendary and her work has been singled out for awards on many occasions. Now New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) is holding an exhibition of designer Neri Oxman’s works.
Neri Oxman is brilliant, successful and famous. Strangely enough, her outstanding work as a designer, architect and professor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, USA, is not what she is most famous for.
Anyone googling Neri Oxman first has to wade through endless celebrity gossip. This is because the attractive 43-year-old was recently romantically linked with Hollywood beau Brad Pitt. One would imagine it is the kind of publicity that the head of MIT’s innovative Mediated Matter research group would gladly do without.
Neri Oxman has no need for a celebrity admirer to raise her profile. This can be seen from the long list of accolades that she has already received for her work. With the London Design Innovation Medal (2018), the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award (2018) and honorary membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects (2019) to her credit, the artist is an international star in her field.
Oxman’s works have long been included in the collections of many prestigious museums. For instance, they can be admired in the Museums of Modern Art in New York and San Francisco, in the Centre Pompidou in Paris and in the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York.
Award gala in San Francisco
On 30 October 2019, Oxman added yet another coveted award to her collection. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) presented the Israeli-American artist with its Contemporary Vision Award.
This is an honour that is bestowed on creative and innovative minds from all over the world whose outstanding contributions have made contemporary art an important part of everyday life. The award was presented at a cocktail reception followed by a gala dinner. Even with tickets costing between $500 and $1,200 per guest, there was no shortage of takers.
After all, design and architecture enthusiasts from all over the world hold Oxman and her accomplishments in the highest esteem. And many lay observers are also enthralled by the groundbreaking ideas created by the founder and director of MIT’s Mediated Matter Group. In her experimental design work, Oxman brings commissions together with the latest scientific findings by applying new technologies in a whole new way.
Oxman conjures up new worlds
Neri Oxman’s team explores new ways of combining computer designs, digital manufacturing, materials sciences and synthetic biology. The information yielded by this research will in turn be rendered realizable on all design levels – from each individual detail to the final construction project.
Neri Oxman is regarded as a pioneer above all in the field of material ecology. Her studies on the interaction of designed objects and structures with their environment pave the way for entirely new approaches. Here, the focus is on establishing a close connection between objects and their natural environment.
Raising the bar for design and putting silkworms to work
For 20 years, Oxman has been developing new means of interdisciplinary collaboration here – even extending to interaction between different species. Whether tree bark, shellfish or silkworms, the tireless researcher observes natural systems and processes in detail. She uses them to develop a new, revolutionary design philosophy. Sometimes she even harnesses nature for her projects. In the “Silk Pavilion” installation, for instance, Oxman gave silkworms free rein to go about their work.
Oxman’s experiments with specially developed 3D printers have also attracted a great deal of attention. Among other things, this called for a Digital Construction Platform (DCP). It is an automatic construction system that evaluates environmental data for the process, thereby steering production in the right direction on location.
Printing a dome
The material foam nozzle was controlled by a laser-equipped robot arm. Hollow areas between the layered walls were filled with concrete. And in just 13.5 hours, Oxman’s research group succeeded in creating – or, to be more specific, printing – an open dome with a 14.6-metre diameter and measuring 3.7 metres in height.
“Living” clothes for the future
No less fascinating are the “wearable skins” produced using computer designs and 3D printing. “Mushtari” is an art object created by Stratasys in this way. It is regarded as the world’s first wearable to combine multimaterial additive manufacturing with synthetic biology. This project was an enormous hit when presented at TED in Vancouver in 2015. Neri Oxman explains: “The wearable pieces have hollow internal channels designed to house microorganisms.”
Just like the human digestive tract, Mushtari hosts microorganisms in a co-culture of photosynthetic cyanobacteria and E. coli bacteria. These synthetic organisms can fluorescence bright colours in darkness and produce sugar or even biofuels when exposed to the sun.
Material with future healing properties
“Such functions will, in the future, augment the wearer by scanning our skins, repairing damaged tissue and sustaining our bodies,” explains Neri Oxman.
Her current works and design objects are also seen as breaking new ground. And the next honour for Neri Oxman is just around the corner. Between 22 February and 25 May 2020, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York will be playing host to an exhibition devoted exclusively to her works.
New exhibition in New York
The museum’s website announces the exhibition as follows: “The eight projects in this exhibition are ‘demos’ for a library of materials and processes that might someday be available to all architects and designers. The objects and structures are all designed as if grown – with no assembly required. Together, they celebrate a new age in which biology, architecture, engineering and design join forces to build the future.”
And, by then, who knows if people will still know who Brad Pitt is? Visionaries who are known for their pioneering work and sustainable achievements are unlikely to be forgotten as quickly as Hollywood society gossip. And, when that time comes, it is quite possible that people looking for information on Neri Oxman’s erstwhile rumoured lover will have to look far down in her list of Google hits.
Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Photos: Neri Oxman, Mikey Siegel, Mediated Matter Group, Noah Kalina, Katherine Du Tiel