Neri Oxman’s “Material Ecology” Gets the MoMA Spotlight
As the founder and director of MIT’s Mediated Matter group, the Israeli-American designer and futurist Neri Oxman is pioneering the way forward for “material ecology,” renegotiating the relationship between nature and the man-made with otherworldly creations that seem straight out of a sci-fi movie, pushing the boundaries of biology, engineering, and design. Whereas past eras—the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and the Bronze Age—were defined by materials, and our current one by digital technology, in Oxman’s mind, we’ve already entered the dawn of the next era: the Biological Age. As she put it last year on Ep. 16 of our Time Sensitive podcast, “The Biological Age is an age where we have disassociated ourselves from physical materials as the single defining element of our existence in the universe.”
Working in close observation of the natural world, Oxman and her team find inspiration in everything from silkworms spinning their cocoons to the structural characteristics of a crustacean’s shell. The group often refers to living organisms as their collaborators on highly engineered creations, which can be as philosophical as they are functional. Opening today and on view through May 25 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition “Neri Oxman: Material Ecology,” organized by Paola Antonelli and Anna Burkhardt, features seven major works that have defined her 20-year career. Among these are the fantastical “Silk Pavilion,” which, like much of Oxman’s work, is not only digitally fabricated but grown—in this case, by using silkworms as living 3-D printers.