From New York to Dubai, these four wide-ranging exhibitions explore art, technology, and craftsmanship.
An interactive sanctuary for emotional, social, and ethical learning has opened at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. Known as the Mandala Lab, the multisensory experience draws upon the work of cognitive scientists, Buddhist teachers, and contemplative humanities researchers to promote self-awareness and the awareness of others with the goal of transforming ordinary emotions into more desirable qualities of enlightened beings. Brooklyn, New York’s Peterson Rich Office (PRO) spearheaded the design of the 2,700-square-foot space, which reflects the symbolism of the Sarvavid Vairochana Mandala in its materiality and layout.
“The museum curators talk about how the Mandala Lab is a tool to help us move from focusing on the ‘me’ to focusing on the ‘we,’” says PRO cofounding architect Nathan Rich. “For us, this isn’t just a psychological concept, but also a spatial one. The primary goal of our design was to create a space that encouraged focus outward and an awareness of one another.”
Viscerally different from the Rubin’s exhibition areas, Mandala Lab is distinguished by dim lighting that directs attention to spaces instead of objects. A suspended metal scrum is used to demarcate four separate quadrants—like a mandala, a spiritual and ritual symbol in Asian cultures that in its basic form are circles contained within a square and arranged into sections organized around a central point—and a circular chamber. Carved stone elements are installed behind the light, transparent screens to deploy customized scents meant to conjure memories. Several touchscreens are framed in smelted bronze, while an alcove with rounded walls and acoustic panels hosts experiential or educational content.
Closed for structural reasons for nearly 20 years, the Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building in Washington, DC has re-emerged with the institution’s first large-scale exploration of the future. Art, technology, design, and history converge across the 32,000-square-foot exhibition, aptly dubbed “Futures,” from November 2021 through July 2022. With New York-based Rockwell Group at the helm, “Futures” showcases site-specific artwork, speculative designs and inventions, and “artefacts of the future” in the building’s four monumental halls. Landmark status prevented designers from drilling into the building’s floors and walls or hanging fixtures from the ceiling. This led the firm to craft “freestanding pavilions made of state-of-the-art sustainable materials and make their own statement,” says firm founder David Rockwell. “We stayed true to the original brief, which was to encourage a nonlinear experience. We felt it was essential to create an experience that is different for each visitor.”
Oriented around four themes, Futures That Unite in the South Hall draws inspiration from Japanese wood joinery to underscore connections both literal and metaphorical. Futures That Work in the West Hall is crafted from sustainable mycelium bricks made from mushrooms and features an algae farm by AI company Hypergiant that can offset more carbon than an acre of trees. Futures That Inspire in the East Hall employs a wallcovering made from recycled cinema posters, while Futures Past in the North Hall displays historical objects like Alexander Graham Bell’s phone prototypes.
“We wanted to underscore personal agency and individual responsibility when it comes to determining the future,” Rockwell says. “There is no one set notion of the future here; rather, we are exploring a pluralistic notion of the ‘futures.’ We all have a part to play in shaping where we go from here.”
Stone Forest Pavilion
To enliven its campus, the Kunming Gemdale Office Building in Yunnan, China tapped Hong Kong-based design firm One Plus Partnership to conceive a dynamic installation. Instead of fashioning sculptures, the firm opted to pay homage to the nearby limestone landmark Yunnan Stone Forest with an interactive metal structure that accommodates guests for gathering, leisure, and performances.
Imitating the natural forms of the Stone Forest, the pavilion is composed of stacked rectangular frames in contrasting blue and orange hues. “The combination of different degrees of arcs and staggered heights create a strong visual impact,” says One Plus co-director Virginia Lung.
Handmade cloths sourced from within the province are hung at crossbars at both ends to honor local tie-dye traditions that have endured in the region for more than 1,000 years. “The tie-dye will be worn out naturally by rain and sunshine, which turned it into a living art piece,” co-director Ajax Law points out. “We hope that it can remind people about the precious heritage.”
For World Expo 2020 Dubai, delayed for a year due to COVID, Montréal-based firm KANVA conceived TRACES at the Canada Pavilion. The exhibition, a response to climate change and disappearing habitats and living species, anchors the expo’s entry plaza with eight boxes showcasing artistically rendered fossilization.
“The artistic interpretation of these critical issues seeks to bring forward a delicate installation that highlights the beauty of living species, their present state of urgency, and to promote the positive change that humans can bring, both individually and collectively,” says KANVA partner Rami Bebawi. “Both for Canada and our firm, it conveys a responsible commitment to addressing climatic concerns while deploying art as a medium to promote awareness.”
One box, for example, features initially handcrafted birds, which were 3D scanned and digitally animated to capture different moments in flight. Wiring systems anchor the birds, which are immersed within a resin medium that yields an exothermic reaction reminiscent of amber fossils. “As visitors enter each of these microcosms, there is a sense of full immersion and a meaningful dialogue with living species,” Bebawi adds. “It highlights the potential of artistic narratives as vehicles for critical thinking.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s 2021 Product Marketplace issue.