Mara is a writer, researcher, and designer based in Los Angeles. A guiding interest in her work is design history, including topics related to architecture, ephemera, and hyperlocal geographic areas. Her writing has appeared in the
Graphite Interdisciplinary Journal of the Arts. Mara Fisher's Articles An Exhibition at Oxford Highlights the Sensorial Splendor of Books In 1940, Dorothy Kunhardt published a book that would forever change the way young children read. Pat the Bunny, an interactive book full of activities such as touching the sandpaper of “Daddy’s scratchy face,” playing peekaboo with a piece of cloth, or gazing in a mirror, imbued the act of reading with a new form of sensory engagement. Today, “touch and feel” books for babies and children are almost required reading—their cellophane stuffing produces a satisfying, A.S.M.R.-level crunching sound, while the use of faux rabbit fur or horse hair offers an exhilarating tactile experience. As we age and our reading comprehension sharpens, the books we pick up prioritize a single sense—sight—their stories seemingly locked away in lines of text. Botanical Artist Lara Call Gastinger on Seeing Scents For botanical artist and illustrator Lara Call Gastinger, the treasures of fields and forests reveal themselves in a profusion of shapes, colors, and textures. Gastinger's meticulous drawings and paintings operate in continual dialogue with the natural world, drawing upon processes (such as fluorescence, dormancy, and decay) and plant structures (including roots, stems, and seed pods) that demonstrate a world of beauty that goes beyond just that which is simply in bloom. Glenn Adamson on “Material Intelligence” and Why It Matters The first attempts to create language around matter—at least in the tradition of European philosophy—began with an observation of the materials that make up trees. With no precedent to describe matter in general, the fourth century B.C. Greek philosopher Aristotle adapted the ancient Greek word for “wood” to develop the concept of “hyle,” or that which receives form or definiteness. The notion of hyle proposes the idea of a universal basic substance from which the entire physical world is made and would come to align with modern scientific ideas about matter and atomic structures. At a Library in Oslo, the Books Can’t Be Read Until 2114 “A forest in Norway is growing.” So begins the cryptic text printed on a certificate for the Future Library, or Framtidsbiblioteket, an artwork by Scottish artist Katie Paterson that, over the span of a century, cumulatively builds a collection of written works viewable only to future generations. Since the project’s beginning, in 2014, one author from across the globe has been invited each year to contribute a piece of writing—anything from a poem to a short story, or a full-length book—which will be held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the year 2114. The certificate, which comes in a limited edition of 1,000, entitles its bearer to a full anthology of all 100 works, which will be printed on paper culled from the Future Library Forest, a grove of 1,000 trees planted by Paterson in 2014 just outside of Oslo, Norway. As the young saplings continue to flourish and mature, so too does the Future Library’s collection. On Manhattan’s High Line, Experimentation Leads to a Whirling, Whizzing, Whooshing Sculpture Rising from a patch of spiny ornamental grass on New York’s High Line park, a 9-foot-tall tornado spins in place, whirling with the fierce, relentless energy of a speeding locomotive—or, to use an apt Looney Toons analogy, the Tasmanian Devil. The arresting apparition? “Windy”, a new (and first-ever) sculpture by the Moroccan-born, New York–based artist Meriem Bennani, installed near West 23rd Street through May 2023. Best-known for her ambitious, often absurd videos, Bennani deftly mixes references from reality TV, cartoons, documentaries, and social media to tell stories about human behavior online and off. (Her viral video series, “2 Lizards” (2020), made with filmmaker Orian Barki and launched on Instagram at the start of the pandemic, depicted the bewildering experience of isolation with uncanny precision.) In Aspen, an Exhibition Meditates on “Mountain Time” Time standards are one of the many seemingly invisible societal constructs we interact with every day but seldom ponder. From the prime meridian, established in London in 1884 as the basis for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), to the standard Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) that regulates the world’s clocks today, these man-made constructs have come to define our relationship to the past, the present, and the future. Time zones themselves, first formed in America in 1883 and instituted globally over the century to follow, were initially built around a specific industry: the railroad. These temporal systems have in turn shaped the world as we know it.
A major exhibition at the Aspen Art Museum (on view through Sept. 11) explores time (as humans have come to define it) in relation to “deep time,” a term used to define the expansive temporal register of the earth and its geological phenomena. Titled “Mountain / Time,” the show is a nod to both the local time zone in Aspen, Mountain Standard Time (MST)—which the writer and critic Kyle Paoletta has hailed for its “apartness” and “sense of detachment from the economic and cultural centers of the nation”—and the conceptual divide between a mountain’s sense of time and our own. Drawing from the collections of New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art and the Rosenkranz Foundation to present moving-image installations by artists of varying ages, “Mountain/Time” brings together various time-based works in dialogue with Aspen’s mountainous landscape to investigate specific themes around time and the ways in which nature can influence and/or alter our perceptions of it.
Several pieces in the exhibition use the archive as a medium. Kandis Williams’s multiscreen work “Triadic Ballet” (2021) layers a 1926 ballet by Bauhaus artist and choreographer Oskar Schlemmer with found footage from marching bands and step squads at historical Black colleges. Williams presents it alongside a 20th-century modern dance performed in the artist’s studio as a means to trace the history of dance and its Eurocentric antecedents. Another work, “Pehin Hanska ktepi (They Killed Long Hair)” (2021), by Mohawk artist Alan Michelson, projects archival film footage of a 1926 parade showing Indigenous veterans, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1876 Battle of the Greasy Grass, onto a red trade blanket in a rotated formation that references Indigenous concepts of cyclical time. A Book About Joints Celebrates the Big Ideas Behind Tiny Details In 1918, Dutch architect and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld developed the first iteration of his influential Red Blue Chair. A member of the de Stijl art and architecture movement, which espoused the belief that a post-World War I Europe could restore itself culturally using new, simplified forms and pure abstraction, Rietveld defied several furniture making conventions with his new design. Red Blue Chair stripped the traditional lounge chair of its volume, reducing the form to a series of rectangular wooden planes as a means to create physical and visual balance. Rietveld’s instructions for building the chair instruct its maker to print the following verse (translated from German), from author and poet Christian Morgenstern’s poem Der Aesthet, and to attach it under the seat: “When I sit, I do not want / to sit like my seat-flesh likes / but rather like my seat-mind would, / if he were sitting, weave the chair for himself.”
Essential to this pioneering silhouette was the inclusion of a new type of joint used to link the pieces. Defying Western joinery traditions, in which points of connection are typically concealed within a given form, Rietveld’s joint placed these junctions front and center. Using three overlapping battens in three right-angled directions, Rietveld made his joints even more conspicuous by extending each piece beyond the point of intersection. By magnifying these oft-hidden details, Rietveld forged a new transparency in design—and spotlighted joinery as a medium for creativity and innovation that deserved to be celebrated.
More than a century later, the subject of physical points of connection receives its due commemoration with U-Joints: A Taxonomy of Connections, an independently-published compendium from architect Andrea Caputo and design professor Anniina Koivu, who served as editors, that encourages readers to look more closely at the details of design. Through six chapters and more than 900 pages, the hefty book traverses the subcategories of joinery with a vast taxonomy for each, fleshing out mechanical joints, knots, adhesives, sealants, welded points, and beyond. These encyclopedic surveys are presented alongside essays, interviews, anecdotes, and photographic studies from an international group of more than 120 architects, designers, artists, inventors, and scholars, demonstrating the cultural, social, and artistic story of the world’s omnipresent, yet overlooked, structural connectors. Design Miami’s Curatorial Director Sees Art Fairs as Powerful Platforms for Cultural Exchange The concept of the Golden Age was first introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Hesiod, around 700 B.C., in a reference to a mythical, long-gone era of ease and peace. The nostalgic term has since been used metaphorically across place and time to describe periods that have been propelled forward by cultural advancement and financial stability. The unbridled optimism and expansive thinking of these moments are the focus for the programming in the upcoming 16th edition of Design Miami Basel (June 14–19), taking place at the Swiss city’s Messeplatz. Organized around the theme “The Golden Age: Rooted in the Past,” the event seeks to explore the ways in which collaboration and imaginative power can help us to confront the economic, political, and social challenges of today. The fair will display works in a hybrid physical and digital format—all works on the show floor will be available for purchase on the organization’s website, which will offer live-streamed and exclusively digital design talks—in an effort to encourage visitors from around the world to engage with the works and ideas on view. Alexandre Benjamin Navet Presents Flowers, Real and Imagined, on New York’s Fifth Avenue May’s colors, textures, and sense of renewal seem to be essential ingredients in Paris-based artist Alexandre Benjamin Navet’s exuberant work. A self-described “spring and summer boy,” his expressive drawings—often made in watercolor or oil pastel—of vases, chairs, and other elaborate home furnishings have served as the basis for vibrant installations, including a sprawling creation inside Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the yachting décor of a pop-up at the city’s Hôtel de Crillon, and hand-painted frescoes at the Hotel des Arts in Toulon. At Germany’s Vitra Design Museum, an Exhibition Considers the Promises and Problems of Plastic In the early 1860s, an advertisement in The New York Times offered $10,000 to anyone who could invent a new material for billiard balls. At the time, elephant ivory was the material of choice for the opaque, solid spheres used for the then increasingly popular game, but manufacturers began to realize that the material was a limited resource, prompting a search for a replacement material. Among the notable yet not-quite-sufficient entries was a hard, malleable material invented in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt called celluloid, which was made by mixing the synthetic compound nitrocellulose with camphor, a waxy substance found in the wood of the camphor laurel tree. Though celluloid would later prove to be less than ideal for billiard balls—due to the substance's flammability, celluloid balls were said to at times produce a mild explosion upon impact—it would become the first commercially successful synthetic plastic. Much like the innovations of Bakelite (1907), plexiglass (1933), and nylon (1935) that followed it, this revolutionary new material would later come to demonstrate incredible versatility and democratizing power. The Prolific, Genre-Defying Output of Luca Nichetto Growing up on the Italian island of Murano, Luca Nichetto was constantly around people who made things. The grandson of a master glassblower who exposed him to the handmade craft at a young age, and the son of a mother who embellished glassworks as they came out of the kilns, he became fascinated with the act of turning conceptual drawings into three-dimensional forms. After studying industrial design at the Università Iuav di Venezia and interning for the Venetian lighting company Foscarini—which hired him as a freelancer to research new materials and products in the early aughts—Nichetto founded Nichetto Studio, in 2006, to focus on industrial design and consulting. Today, it has offices in Venice and Stockholm. His firm has worked with numerous international brands including Hermès, Cassina, Hem, and the furniture start-up ZaoZuo. These Earthenware Vessels by Omar Sosa Invite Improvisation and Play Tactility has been central to Omar Sosa’s creative practice for years. He developed a fondness for making books while working as a graphic designer and art director in his native Barcelona. In 2008, while in his mid-20s, Sosa co-founded the award-winning interiors magazine Apartamento, which has developed a cult following for its content—candid conversations with creative people from a variety of fields paired with refreshingly informal photographs of their homes—as well as its design, which he says has always been rooted in a consideration for the weight, texture, and volume of the final physical product. A New Biography Looks Back on Stewart Brand’s Planetary Impact One afternoon in February of 1966, Stewart Brand took half a tab of LSD, sat on a rooftop in San Francisco’s North Beach, and looked up at the sky. He began to visualize what he would see if there were a mirror up there, miles away, looking back at him. As he contemplated this vantage point, he thought about the powerful impact that a photograph of the entire earth might have on people and their collective consciousness. Brand later launched a campaign imploring NASA to release such an image, which became a powerful symbol that implicated societies in a collective identity and responsibility to care for the planet. Megumi Shauna Arai’s Enchanting Textiles Are Patchworks of Stories and Traditions For Megumi Shauna Arai, textiles are universal indicators of culture and identity. Like 19th-century crazy quilts or the lively blankets that emerged in the 20th century from the hands of women in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, her work incorporates salvaged fabric, but with a twist: Arai’s materials come from various countries and eras, and mingle with textiles dyed with natural pigments that the self-taught New York–based artist mixes herself. She layers the geometric scraps as one might pictures on a mood board, and displays the resulting bold, colorful tapestries in engaging ways—some hung in her interpretation of noren, traditional Japanese fabric dividers that are suspended in windows and doorways (seen in a Manhattan pop-up of Beverly’s Shop last year), and others laid flat, as was one particularly striking piece on a bed at the Eliot Noyes House in New Canaan, Connecticut, as part of the 2020 edition of the art and design fair Object & Thing—that invite viewers to consider the histories and techniques they represent. In Dallas, the First In-Depth Presentation of Nancy Holt’s Audio Works Throughout the 20th century, sculpture-making bubbled with experimentation, as practitioners explored various mediums, theatricality, and physical engagement as means to create new interactions between objects and space. Some artists opted to use sound as a sculptural material—one that could envelop and enter into the body, and create a heightened awareness of one’s environment. Clothes Fit for Modern Farmers, With a Message For several years, artist Dan Colen wasn’t exactly sure how to talk about Sky High Farm (SHF), a nonprofit 40-acre regenerative ecosystem he created in New York’s Hudson Valley that, since its beginnings in 2011, has donated everything it produces to food-access organizations throughout the state. Colen, who’s represented by the Gagosian and Lévy Gorvy galleries in New York, and Massimo De Carlo in Milan, skateboarded in his youth, and understands how fashion can be used to spread a message. He longed to share his project in an inviting, open-ended way. “I wanted to offer an opportunity for people to support [the farm], and then figure out their own conversations around it,” he says on Ep. 40 of our Time Sensitive podcast. “And the lightest touch seemed to be through products.” In 2019, he partnered with the international concept shop Dover Street Market (DSM), which has since sold several SHF clothing collections, made in collaboration with brands including Supreme and Irak, that were produced through the nonprofit farm as a charity initiative. (All profits from the pieces, which regularly sold out, went toward running the 501(c)3 SHF.) Like a streetwear drop, the garments were a way of growing and maintaining an audience—particularly a young, engaged one—and of spreading awareness about regenerative farming and food insecurity. The Magic and Miracle of the Human Voice In 1999, journalist, author, and novelist John Colapinto damaged his vocal cords while singing in a rock band without properly warming up. The incident sparked a decades-long investigation into the miracle of the human voice and its biological, sociological, and psychological implications. What the Fashion Industry Can Learn From Biology Carole Collet, a professor of Design for Sustainable Futures at Central Saint Martins (C.S.M.) in London, has spent decades studying how biological systems might help humans create a more regenerative future—one that shifts the focus from merely lessening society’s negative impact on the planet to exploring ways in which art, architecture, and fashion design can actually help restore the earth’s biodiversity. Collet’s investigations narrow the gap between the hypothetical and the viable. Her project Biolace, for example, first exhibited almost a decade ago, explored the concept of modifying the DNA of plants to produce delicate, latticed textiles. Now, among other things, she’s looking into fabric-like matter that is naturally grown by trees. Her work generally falls under the field of biodesign, an emerging movement of scientists, artists, and designers that integrates organic processes and materials into the creation of buildings, objects, and clothes. By Listening to the Ocean, Jana Winderen Exposes the Vital Role of Sound in Aquatic Life Oceans are among the most sound-rich environments on the planet—but because the water’s surface keeps most noises from permeating out, they rarely reach human ears. That hasn’t stopped Norwegian artist Jana Winderen from bringing underwater sounds to dry land. Since 2005, she’s been listening to marine ecosystems using a hydrophone, a microphone designed to detect and record ocean noises from all directions, and shares her recordings—including the creaking of a 10,000-year-old melting glacier, the high-pitched chirps of migrating humpback whales, and the squeaks of dolphins—in audio installations around the world. (Musician and author Bernie Kraus captures nature’s soundscapes, above ground, in a similar manner, and spoke about his work on Ep. 127 of our At a Distance podcast.) From an Indestructible Puffer to 100-Year Pants, Vollebak Makes Clothes for the Future While fashion brands often design their garments based on fleeting trends, twin brothers and athletes Nick and Steve Tidball create items for their menswear line, Vollebak, with a more certain future in mind: one that involves environmental threats and the continued exploration of space, and that may very well demand more from our clothing. Their participation in extreme sports—the pair has sprinted for hours across Africa’s Namib desert in 130-degree heat, completed a weeklong ultramarathon through the Amazon jungle, and run a 120-mile race over the Alps—regularly informs Vollebak’s designs, which take a markedly long view on clothes. Made using some of the most durable and cutting-edge materials on earth, its groundbreaking pieces are virtually indestructible, yet appear as pared-down essentials. All are created to protect and aid wearers as they make their way through the world’s ever-changing terrain. For Leonard Koren, Taking a Japanese Bath is the “Ultimate Experience” In the early ’90s, artist, aesthetics expert, and writer Leonard Koren was bathing at a hot-springs resort near the Japanese city of Kamakura when he was struck by an idea for his next book. Observing his fellow bathers, Koren noticed that each one followed the same time-honored Japanese bathing procedure: Undress and wash the body with warm water; submerge in a tub (or pool) of hot water, enjoying the steam and warmth until the body is thoroughly heated; exit the tub and wash the body and scalp with soap and water; then enter the tub once more for a longer soak. These Virtual Exhibitions Draw on the Real-Life Health Benefits of Art The exhibition “AORA V: nature/nurture” (on view through Feb. 27, 2022) takes place within four tranquil galleries that, thanks to ample room-length skylights and picture windows, are awash with natural light. A soothing soundtrack accompanies the spaces, each of which features paintings, photographs, sculpture, and other objects by emerging artists from around the globe. To get a closer look at one of the pieces, there’s no neck-craning required. Visitors simply press the “up” arrow on their keyboards: All works in the show, and the building it’s housed within, only exist online. A Brooklyn Studio Whose Creations Alter Our Perspectives on Time Brooklyn design studio CW&T is on a mission to change our perspectives on time. To do so, it adapts everyday objects—including clocks, pens, patches, and jump ropes—into understated items that operate in delightful, unexpected ways. The practice, co-founded by Che-Wei Wang and Taylor Levy, in 2009, envisions each of its creations as the last of its kind that a user will ever need, and as an integral, enduring part of their lives. A Brooklyn Wellness Brand That Harnesses the Power of Good Design In 2014, Eddie Cohen embarked on a 10-day silent meditation retreat to further his practice of quieting his mind. Sitting within the refuge’s interior spaces, he began to notice that the objects around him were poorly designed, and left him feeling uninspired. As he meditated, he began to contemplate people’s subconscious sensitivity to their environments, and how seemingly inert items around us can affect our greater sense of calm and well-being. He concluded that the level of intention put into designing a product should be commensurate with the importance it holds in our lives. How a Finnish Furniture Company Explores the Potential of Pine Despite being among the most abundant tree species in Finland, pine has been largely overlooked and underutilized as a furniture-making material by recent generations, who have favored the durability and uniform texture of birch wood. While typically classified as a soft, lesser-quality wood that’s better suited for paper pulp than interior design, pine—abundant, cheap, and peppered with gnarly knots—was once the timber of choice for the country’s crafts, log houses, hand-carved tools, and furniture, and effectively shaped Finnish domestic life. The Helsinki-based furniture company Vaarnii seeks to revive the use of pine in furniture making, and with it, forge a new era in Finnish design that celebrates the material’s intrinsic qualities and cultural history. Smallhold’s Mushroom Minifarms Give New Meaning to the Term “Local Food” In 2017, Andrew Carter and Adam DeMartino retrofitted a shipping container on a farm in Brooklyn and began growing mushrooms—about 50–100 pounds of them every week—inside, and sold them to local restaurants through a company they co-founded called Smallhold. They cultivated multiple varieties—sculptural shiitakes, royal trumpets, yellow oysters, and more—in a substrate made from recycled waste from the restaurant and agricultural industries (coffee grounds, sawdust), and became the first certified organic farm in New York City. Nature’s Functional Forms, Billions of Years in the Making Brooklin, Maine–based science writer and children’s book author Kimberly Ridley began her latest project by setting up a camping chair and a wobbly table in her backyard. Then she sat down, and waited. Observing her immediate surroundings, she began to notice a series of forms: A large, black-and-yellow orb-weaver spider spun a platter-sized web. Rotund toadstools and coral mushrooms with crownlike tops sprang up from the ground. A cup-shaped robin’s nest made of mud and grass balanced on a branch of a nearby tree. Ridley was enthralled with the formations she witnessed, and recognized that each phenomenon was a functional design billions of years in the making. She set out to learn about other extraordinary structures in the great outdoors, and chronicled her findings in her new book, Wild Design: Nature’s Architects (Princeton Architectural Press), out next week. How Cheeses Get Their Funk, According to a Self-Proclaimed Cheese Evangelist In 2015, former cheesemonger and self-proclaimed cheese evangelist Erika Kubick founded Cheese Sex Death, a blog and online resource for all things related to the fermented dairy product that has been revered for thousands of years in various ways (as detailed in Kubick’s informative yet delightfully conversational posts), including as an edible delicacy, a divination tool, and—perhaps not suprisingly—an object of religious importance. Kubick, who lives in Chicago, says she experienced her own “come to Cheesus” moment when she was fresh out of college, with a degree in filmmaking, and received an assignment to research non-Manchego Spanish cheeses for Plate magazine. What started as a Google search turned into a deep dive into the domain of pressed curds and milk, and Kubick began to unpack what cheese can tell us about science, history, and culture. The experience eventually led to her current venture, which is defined by her passion for the subject that borders on the erotic. “I believe cheese is the sexiest, holiest food in the world and that we should all pleasure ourselves with it every day,” she writes on her website. “I created Cheese Sex Death to inspire people to indulge their funky fromage fantasies.” How Fungi Can Save the World In the late ’90s, at age 19, Giuliana Furci was searching for foxes on the Chilean island of Chiloé when she stumbled upon a fungus—large and orangey-red—that would change her life. The encounter prompted Furci to seek out more information about the field of mycology, but she found herself faced with a scarcity of resources in her native Chile: the internet was in its nascent years, and Furci was unable to find any local field guides on fungi; laws to protect them from overharvesting, deforestation, and land exploitation were all but absent. She asked a friend in the United States to ship her a few books by Paul Stamets, an American mycologist who has written extensively on fungi cultivation for edible and medical purposes. Upon its receipt, Furci began to explore the fungi kingdom, and has never looked back. When Scent Meets the Museum, Do We See Art Differently? In his 2005 essay “There Are No Visual Media,” visual culture scholar W.J.T. Mitchell argues that multiple senses are always involved in an optical experience. A growing number of exhibitions around the world leverage this idea by incorporating the most elusive yet most evocative of the senses—smell—into the works on view to foster a more holistic, embodied viewing experience. Modernist Cuisine Applies Its Signature Science-Meets-Art Approach to Pizza After some 100,000 miles traveled, 250 pizzerias visited, and 12,000 individual pies created at a food lab in Bellevue, Washington, chefs Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya quite literally have pizza-making down to a science. They present their findings in Modernist Pizza (The Cooking Lab), out this week, a comprehensive three-volume opus dedicated to one of the world’s most beloved foods. It’s the latest in a highly respected series of books produced by Modernist Cuisine, a collective founded by Myhrvold, in 2011, that challenges researchers, machinists, engineers, and other experts (including Migoya, who serves as head chef) to make and think about food in new ways. At a Los Angeles Exhibition, “Almost-Dysfunctional” Japanese Pottery That Conveys the Circle of Life In Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, the word khôra—the territory just outside the Ancient Greek city center—is used to describe a condition that serves as a womb-like space through which all things pass and materialize. The cavernous vessels by artists Kazunori Hamana and Yukiko Kuroda, who live in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture, embody a similar concept by considering the transient, continual circle of life. In New York’s Hudson Valley, a Brewery of Innovation and Intent New York’s Hudson Valley has a brewing heritage that dates back to its first Dutch settlers, who made use of the abundant wheat and hops growing nearby. The opening of the Erie Canal bolstered distribution of local beers to the rest of the country, and by the mid-1800s, Hudson Valley was home to the largest brewery in America.