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Broken Nature at MoMA New York explores the designed technology of sustainability

STIR speaks with Anna Burckhardt, the assistant curator of Broken Nature at MoMA, about creativity and functionality, and the museum's initiatives to address their carbon footprint.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Oct 14, 2021

The Museum of Modern Art in New York recently hosted a mixed media, concept heavy, visual exhibition, titled Broken Nature. The exhibition fused together the art of design, the design of material and the architecture of nature to share a method by which humans can live in harmony with their natural environment, a preferred stance to the destructive behaviour we perpetrate today. The showcase was originally curated for the Triennale di Milano in 2019, featuring approximately 45 works. Broken Nature is curated by Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Department of Architecture and Design, as well as Anna Burckhardt, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design. The exhibition was opened in November 2020 and closed in August 2021. Burckhardt spoke to us at STIR about the concept of the exhibition, as well as the real-life applications of these concepts in our present economy as well as at MoMA itself.

An installation view of Broken Nature at MoMA | Broken Nature | MoMA | STIRworld
An installation view of Broken Nature at MoMA Image: Robert Gerhardt; Courtesy of MoMA

The exhibition at MoMA highlights the idea of restorative design, which Burckhardt tells us in detail. “The definition of restorative design is and should be in constant evolution. The concept has to do with the way in which humans relate to other species and the rest of nature, and how design might help us repair some of the threads that secure those connections. Paola Antonelli, the leader of the curatorial teams that organised both versions of Broken Nature, sometimes equate this idea to the original notion of restaurants, which were born in France in the 18th century as places where one could eat food that would be nourishing and restore your health. They would eventually also become places for leisure and pleasure - an important aspect of what we would like to propose. Design should be reparative - to communities that have been historically marginalised, to non-human species, and to nature as a whole - but it should also be formally elegant and, in many cases, pleasurable,” she says. The exhibition places emphasis on viewing humans as an equal part of the natural world, and not as a species outside or above it, as is often depicted.

MARS (2013) by Alex Goad | Broken Nature | MoMA | STIRworld
MARS (2013) by Alex Goad Image: Gianluca di Loia; Courtesy of Triennale di Milano

Burckhardt discusses how circularity and waste are relevant principles to follow when creating in this present environment, a factor detailed in the curation of projects at Broken Nature. She says, “The idea of circularity, which speaks to the use of waste and other alternative resources as raw materials, is key to both installations of Broken Nature. Human tendencies toward overconsumption and corporate planned-obsolescence programs have strained natural resources, with dangerous consequences for all species. This has led a growing community of designers, scientists, or architects to develop new building processes that centre the use of waste in order to extend the life cycle of objects and materials”.

A still from Aki Inomata’s Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ichi (Ammonite) | Broken Nature | MoMA | STIRworld
A still from Aki Inomata’s Think Evolution #1: Kiku-ichi (Ammonite) Image: Courtesy of the artist and Maho Kubota Gallery

She continues, giving examples of works which embody these values, “Studio Formafantasma’s Ore Streams is an investigation into the dark network of e-waste disposal and redeployment. The project culminates in a set of office furniture that uses waste as anew material, as well as a series of videos that include interviews with practitioners in the recycling sector and possible strategies to improve the recycling process. Anima, by Japanese designer and maker, Kosuke Araki, on the other hand, argues that by being so far removed from its systems of production, we have ceased to appreciate the nourishment that sustains us. Both of these projects understand the power of individual actions, while also recognising the larger networks that shape our interconnected world”. She underlines the intention for the exhibition, to provide examples for the common man to follow in their daily practice.

An installation view of Broken Nature at MoMA | Broken Nature | MoMA | STIRworld
An installation view of Broken Nature at MoMA Image: Robert Gerhardt; Courtesy of MoMA

One sees many exhibitions these days which discuss sustainable practices and the need for a regenerative lifestyle. However, the museums and galleries curating such exhibitions rarely take on the responsibility themselves. The art industry has a massive carbon footprint, a factor rarely taken into consideration when preaching about sustainability as the need of the hour. Broken Nature presents a highly conceptual, almost futuristic understanding of sustainability, rather than a presently applicable solution to our massive overconsumption and badly allocated resources.

As I probed further into MoMA’s eco-friendly values, the curator Burckhardt told us, “A sustainable approach to exhibition making is critical to all museum work. It is also challenging, especially when it comes to large institutions that have to manage the operation of big buildings. MoMA has begun to explore these issues through curatorial endeavours and public programming, such as a video and accompanying program that explain the concept of embodied energy in relation to the museum’s expanded campus, as well as the establishment of the Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment. It is particularly important, however, that these ideas and explorations are reflected in the everyday practices of the institution. From LEED certification, to recycling systems, international loan approaches, and the use of air conditioning, institutions should constantly question their operating practices and strive to achieve the best, more sustainable solutions”.

05 mins watch MoMA talks about embodied energy | Broken Nature | MoMA | STIRworld
MoMA talks about embodied energy Video: Courtesy of MoMA

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