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Art Seen: Design and the Living World

Hella Jongerius
Maya Forest, Mexico
Chicle Latex. Chicle was provided by Verve, Inc., makers of Glee Gum, Providence, Rhode Island.
Chicle was also purchased from the chicleros in he Veinte de Noviembre ejido.
Ceramics designed by Hella Jongerius provide the base for the chicle experiments.

Ten inspiring designers from the world of fashion, architecture, industrial, and furniture design have been brought together by The Nature Conservancy for an interesting and thought-provoking exhibit currently showing at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ. Design and the Living World presents new work (just for his exhibit) of recognized designers, Maya Lin, Isaac Mizrahi, Abbott Miller, and Kate Spade, to name a few.

Abbott Miller
Community forest, Bolivia
FSC-certified plywood with jatoba veneers
CNC (Computer Numerical Control) routing and production was provided by Associated Fabrication,
Brooklyn. Cotton webbing was sourced from Shaker Workshops, Ashburnham, Massachusetts.

The idea of the exhibit was to send these designers out to one of ten diverse locations around the world to explore the natural resources and local talent native to the area. They were then asked to create functional objects that “reflect and celebrate” each of the site’s natural landscape.

Isaac Mizrahi
Nushagak-Mulchatna Watershed, Alaska
Dress: Organza fabric, salmon leather paillettes
The paillettes were prepared by Langlois-Martin, Paris.
The salmon leather was provided by Fine Exotic Leather, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada,
which prepares salmon skin from Alaska and Canada.

There are many highlights to this show, but some outstanding pieces exhibited include the work of Mizrahi, who fashioned a dress out of Alaskan salmon skin, a typically wasted by-product of the salmon industry. Dutch designer Hella Jongerius worked with chicle, harvested in the Yucatan Peninsula, to craft beautiful decorative plates and vessels. Chicle is usually used in chewing gum production. And, a personal favorite of the show, designer Christien Meindertsma knitted an amazing large rug from wool provided by a sustainable sheep ranch in Idaho. Each individual sheep’s wool gathered forms a distinctive section of the rug. Please take some time to watch the videos for each designer, as they offer interesting and important points to the show.

Above and Below: Christien Meindertsma
Lava Lake Ranch, Idaho
Organic sheep wool


While the designers work is a bit uneven (some solutions are much better than others), and the intent may be a bit unfocused, the exhibit is a great starting point to think about conserving and protecting natural resources. What I came away with was how important these hidden, out of way, and special places in the world are, and might have some answers to making more sustainable and unique products. The hope is that the people in these special communities can continue to create without fear of losing their beloved places to over-development or over commercialization.

Design and the Living World is running until April 1, 2012.
Hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily at Dorrance Hall and Ottosen Gallery at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

All photos: Lisa Marie Sipe


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