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Meticulous Flat Lays of Vintage Toys and Miniatures Celebrate the History of Play and Design
“There’s a feeling I remember which has to do with the seriousness of play, when you were completely absorbed in playing a game with your toys and fully believed in the world you’d created, and it really mattered,” Jane Housham says. “I look longingly back at that imaginative space.”
A writer, artist, and self-described accumulator, Housham continually returns to the engrossing joys of childhood through a vast collection of found objects. Stickers and plastic doll hands, a pantry of non-perishable goods, and a menagerie of animals on wheels are the catalysts for her flat lays. Precisely categorized by color, shape, or theme, each composition highlights the varied styles, functions, and contexts of similar items and becomes a useful and approachable entry into the history of design. “If I’ve acquired a new (to me) little object, that often nudges me to revisit the category it belongs to—a new tiny seahorse or radio will subtly alter the pre-existing set, and the arrangement is always fresh in any case. Seahorses and radios are particular favourites of mine,” she says.
Housham’s mother was a dollhouse enthusiast and passed on her love of miniatures, which inspired the artist to keep a box of treasures as a child that she would frequently sort and arrange. That early experience is the root of her current practice, which is the result of rummaging through massive stores—she estimates there are thousands of objects in her possession at the moment—of vintage toys and tiny items.
Because many of the pieces in her collection are antiques and sourced secondhand, sometimes they’re rusty, scratched, or broken, and a considerable number are made from plastic. Housham adds:
I’m not really interested in new plastic things as I don’t want to encourage the continued spewing out of unnecessary plastic bits and pieces, but I like to save old plastic toys and other secondhand bits and bobs and to celebrate their colours and the ingenuity of their design. Although it’s now understood to be so bad for the world, plastic was a beautiful material in its heyday.
Housham shares a trove of miniature finds and color-coded compositions on her Instagram, Found and Chosen, and sells prints of the flat lays on Etsy. As she amasses more objects and engages with the childhood curiosity and imagination she so deeply values, she does find herself asking one recurring question: “Where will all this collecting end, I wonder?”
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A Traditional Ukrainian House Outlines a Home Away from Home in Antarctica
Off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula within an expansive archipelago sits the island of Galindez where the Ukrainian Vernadsky Research Base annually hosts twelve scientists and welcomes more than 4,000 tourists during the summer months. One of the first things visitors encounter is an unsightly, defunct fuel tank perched on the shore that the National Antarctic Research Center wanted to tidy up, so they asked the Kyiv-based architecture studio balbek bureau to envision and repurpose the site into an inviting “home away from home.”
The center commissioned the project in November 2021, three months before Russia invaded Ukraine. Originally scheduled for installation in early 2022, the war forced the firm to postpone until last month, when the piece titled “Home. Memories” was successfully constructed. Conceived as a welcoming sight for resident researchers and travelers, the piece adopted new layers of meaning in the wake of Russia’s aggression, highlighting Ukraine’s distinct culture and history amidst the ongoing assault. balbek bureau’s design is based on a traditional, rural house, incorporating a thin, metal frame around the tank that resembles a pencil sketch, “as if someone, reminiscing, draws their childhood home from memory.”
Along with being a “visual treat” for visitors, the project had significant practical concerns because of its extreme location. The installation had to be easily assembled, resistant to severe weather conditions, and safe for more than 3,500 penguins living on the island— “who love to disassemble constructions into bits used for nests.” The structure had to be able to withstand winds of up to 90 miles per hour, sub-zero temperatures, and around 300 days of precipitation each year.
Complementing the geometry of the outline, a miniature exhibition of resin “time capsules,” or souvenirs from around the country, are on display and include a sample of UNESCO-listed Kosiv painted ceramics, a fragment of an embroidered shirt known as a vyshyvanka, and a lump of coal from the Donetsk region. “We believe that the war will end in our victory, and Ukrainians will create new memories from the safe haven of their home,” shares co-founder Slava Balbek. “And all the way in Antarctica, for researchers and tourists alike, our house will continue to stand strong, a true memento of Ukraine.”
Explore in-depth documentation of the process from start to finish on the studio’s website.
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Magic and Myth Arise from Kristin Kwan’s Surreal Oil Paintings
Kristin Kwan coaxes the magic out of nature in her dreamlike oil paintings. Emphasizing a quiet surrealism centered on plants, animals, and Earth’s landscapes, her works draw on allegories, symbolism, and myth. Suffused with fantastical details, each painting begins “devoid of meaning,” Kwan shares, saying that while they reflect her own musings, she hopes the resulting pieces are open-ended. “I like to think of a painting as some kind of communal scaffold or trellis that meaning can grow on, my own alongside viewers,” the artist recently told Beautiful Bizarre, which awarded her the 2022 art prize for “The Golden Afternoon” shown below.
Kwan is currently preparing for two group shows, one in May at Tugboat Gallery in her current city of Lincoln, Nebraska, and another in August at Seattle’s Roq La Rue. She also has a solo show scheduled for December at Nucleus in Los Angeles. For glimpses into her process and studio and to keep up with her latest works, head to Instagram.
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Clever Illustrations by Nash Weerasekera Highlight Ironies and Anxieties of Everyday Life
Influenced by what he describes as a “healthy level of cynicism,” Melbourne-based artist Nash Weerasekera taps into the subtle ironies of everyday life. His digital illustrations often center on seemingly paradoxical circumstances like a figure meditating on top of an overturned car or a young girl in a bathing suit seated on an ice floe. Largely focused on the nature of work, social interactions, and domestic responsibilities, his humorous scenes visualize endless to-do lists, running out of time, or a satirical take on a favorite phrase of optimists everywhere: every cloud has a silver lining.
Weerasekera shares that he “thinks” better on paper, so every piece begins with a physical sketch. His illustration practice stems from a background in street art in his home country of Sri Lanka that blossomed into acrylic painting when he moved to Australia. During pandemic lockdowns when it was a challenge to gather materials, he began to experiment with digital techniques and increasingly collaborates with commercial clients.
Weerasekera is currently illustrating a children’s book, and you can find more of his work on Instagram.
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Viruses and Microorganisms Emerge from Agnes Hansella’s Macramé Installations and Sculptures
In a Time Magazine article published during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientist Elizabeth Fischer describes viruses and their aptness for destruction. She refers to their “beautiful symmetry,” adding, “they’re not malicious in and of themselves. They’re just doing what they do.” This straightforward statement contrasts much public sentiment centered on the overwhelming fear and grief and is the basis for a new body of work by Jakarta-based artist Agnes Hansella (previously).
Recently on view alongside pieces by Mulyana (previously) at NA Arthouse, Hansella’s macramé installation and sculptures magnify the tiny world of microorganisms through fiber. The nearly six-meter “Under Our Skin” hung at the entrance of the show, creating an intricate curtain of knotted and looped rope mimicking the epidermis. A large hoop evoking a microscope lens stood nearby, with Mulyana’s crocheted bacteria clinging to the loose net of threads.
Inside the gallery were several sculptures of phages, a tall navicula, and the infamous coronavirus. Two wall pieces spill out from their white frames, creating textured topographies of organic forms that appear to grow outward. “I want to explore microorganisms and viruses in (their) beauty to remind myself that we are part of a complex world, and getting close to these small unseen things helps me value simple everyday actions more, as simple as breathing,” Hansella shares.
For more of the artist’s elaborate rope-based works, visit her site and Instagram.
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Kongkee Resurrects an Ancient Chinese Poet in an Energetic Cyberpunk Vision of Asian Futurism
The story of the legendary Chinese poet Qu Yuan ends in tragedy. Living during the destructive Warring States period that ran from 481 to 221 BCE, Qu Yuan was an influential writer and politician who was banished by King Huai of Chu and subsequently spent much of his time traveling the country and working on verse. The life of exile didn’t suit the poet, though, leading him into a deep depression and toward his eventual suicide in the Miluo River. Created as a hunt to retrieve Qu Yuan’s body, the annual Dragon Boat Festival continues to this day in celebration of his legacy.
A forthcoming exhibition at Chicago’s Wrightwood 659 imagines the poet’s afterlife “as his soul journeys from the ancient Chu Kingdom to a retro-futuristic Asia where he is reborn as an android in a psychedelic cyberpunk landscape.” Melding history with a distinctive sci-fi vision, Kongkee: Warring States of Cyberpunk features works in several mediums by the London-based Chinese animator and artist Kong Khong-chang, known as Kongkee. Using videos, projections, installations, ancient objects, and graphic pieces, the artist explores Asian Futurism through the energetic and luminously rendered narrative of a Chinese icon.
An extension of a comic series Kongkee created back in 2013, the show considers existential questions of immortality, how the body and soul interact, and the tenuous relationship between humanity and machine. Bold, saturated colors emphasize the role of the digital in the visionary realm, while mountain ranges, clouds, and vast starry skies incorporate more natural and classical motifs that have existed for millennia. Rippled waves and water feature prominently, referencing Qu Yuan’s drowning in 278 BCE.
Although based on a life of immense suffering, Kongkee’s works are optimistic as he envisions a universe where redemption and reconciliation are possible. The artist shares in a statement:
I asked myself, what happens when a soul emerges after 2,000 years from underwater—does it seek out something new? Does it return to familiar places? Qu Yuan’s poetry has a psychedelic, wandering quality that I tried to reflect in my art, but I also wanted him to reflect the disorientation, as well as the hope, of our era.
Following its U.S. debut at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, Kongkee: Warring States of Cyberpunk opens in Chicago on April 14 and will be on view until July 15. Find more from the artist on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: Animation
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.