Where Humans and Nature Meet

MoMA has curated some spectacular exhibition work this past year with a focus on the environment and environmental concerns. Their latest offering is an impressive selection of works from a previous collaboration done with the Triennale di Milano in 2019.

Entitled “Broken Nature,” the show elevates the theoretical to the practical; the ideas and their executions on view form a collection of intelligent and compassionate responses to various environmental issues and questions.

The show focuses on how humans can interact with nature in a helpful way to restore, improve or foster a symbiotic relationship with the fragility of the planet while not compromising either. In many instances, the emphasis is on helping the planet to heal itself.

With careful consideration, artists, scientists, biologists, mathematicians and designers are leading the charge to create a healthier world. The concepts presented promote the aims of working with nature, rather than against it.

With “Broken Nature,” MoMA takes the intention of saving aspects of the planet out of the abstract and firmly places it in the practical, with solutions that are interesting and viable.

The benefits are clearly demonstrated by showing how just a little bit of thoughtful innovation can reap large and long lasting results for generations to come. And a healthier natural world makes for a healthier human!

Below are some highlights and explanatory information from the show. “Broken Nature” is on view through August.

Plastiglomerates, 2013, Plastic debris and beach sediments

On Kamilo Beach in Hawaii, tons of garbage and plastic waste wash to the shore every year. Some of the debris ends up in recreational bonfires where it fuses with the sand and for which geologist Patricia Corcoran, oceanographer Charles Moore and artist Kelly Jazvac have named “plastiglomerates.” Heavier fragments can actually be preserved into the sediment, leaving behind what will become a future fossil—a record of human activity that had a profound effect on the Earth’s stratigraphy.

Maldives Sandbar, 2018-19

As ocean levels rise, coastal regions and dwellings around the world are in jeopardy. Looking for solutions that incorporate the natural environment, underwater “bladders” were created as a low-cost, easy to deploy method of building back shorelines that have eroded and which are adaptable to fluctuations in weather. As the ocean waters ebb and flow over the anchored structures, sand naturally builds up, thereby replenishing sand as well as fortifying the existing marine ecosystem.

MARS—Modular Artificial Reef Structure, 2013, Ceramic, marine concrete and steel

This ingenious lattice system made with 3-D printed resin molds which are then cast in ceramic address the death of coral reefs around the planet. As a result of these vital losses, new farming methods are being created to grow different coral species in a safe environment until they can be transplanted into natural reefs. Before being transplanted these new coral fragments are attached to the structure where they can then grow and proliferate, thereby regenerating a healthy coral reef. The geometry of the structure also allows for a protective habitat for other species, such as fish and mollusks, commonly found in reef ecosystems.

Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ishi (Ammonite), 2016-17, Resin ammonite fossil

It’s hard to imagine that octopuses once lived with an outer shell, which they eventually shed in favor of speed as they began to dart through ocean waters. However, some octopus species do sometimes create shell structures for themselves, whether for comfort or in hiding from a predator. To explore evolutionary memory, this ammonite shell was created using 3-D scanning and printing. After placing the shell in an aquarium alongside a small octopus, it immediately began exploring and habituating. The recorded interaction showed that perhaps octopuses do remember!

Tree Processor/Digester

Designs for an Overpopulated Planet: Foragers, 2009, Glass-reinforced plastic

These funky contraptions are part of a collection of items designed by Critical Design to address the issues of food shortages as well as considering different types of food sources. This ambitious collection of implements focuses not only on obtaining new food sources (think tough roots and cellulosic matter) but ways to absorb and digest them in the human system. The various tools point to a radical reconsideration in the future of food and the potential that lies therein.

Augmented Digestive System

Anima, 2018-19, Charcoal made from food waste and urushi

The Anima Collection is a set of stylish tableware made from food residue. Using vegetable scraps, eggshells and bones, these items were divided between what can be burned to a charcoal state for use in making molds (vegetable remains) and what can be boiled to form a gelatinous substance (animal bones) to pour into these molds. The end result is this complete set of dishes that are fully functional with the side benefit of reducing levels of methane in the earth’s atmosphere by using materials that would otherwise sit in landfills.

With reuse and upcycling in mind, this wall piece was made from thin strips of acoustic felt that can be attached to a surface with magnetic wallpaper. The felt bands can be arranged into free-form compositions and, depending on density, the noise-reducing properties will be more or less effective. After the magnets are removed, the textile may be further broken down for use in other capacities. Now that’s the way to keep the circular economy moving!