Japanese artist Azuma Makoto (previously) is known for shifting the contexts in which we typically view florals—think encasing bouquets in blocks of ice or suspending them in the stratosphere—through installations and designs that blur the boundaries between art and botany. Shown here is a 2018 project titled “Frozen Flowers” from Makoto’s In Bloom series. The undertaking brought the artist to Notsuke Peninsula in Hokkaido where he doused open blossoms and greenery in water. Positioned against the stark, snowy landscape, the resulting arrangement is frozen in its original splendor, allowing the vibrancy of the flowers to peek through the icicles.
“The place where this installation was held in Hokkaido is also called the end of the world since blighted pine trees are usually spread out there and that place freezes over in winter,” says Makoto’s studio. “It was the series of how Azuma pursued unknown possibilities of flowers and how flowers express themselves under this condition.”
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Wrapping a gallery space at the 2020 NGV Triennial is a bowed pavilion of tessellating wood. A collaboration between renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (previously) and Australian artist Geoff Nees, the large-scale installation is constructed with trees felled at Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens during the millennium drought. The pointed slats interlock without the use of additional supports, a design derived from traditional Japanese joinery, and create a scaly pattern that allows light to stream through.
Titled “Botanical Pavilion,” the curved structure features foraged timber—some of which predates European colonization on the continent—arranged by color rather than species. “By prioritizing natural phenomena over scientific order, the designers call into question the reductive nature of science during the colonial era, a mindset at odds with many Indigenous cultural beliefs and knowledge systems,” a statement about the piece says. At both ends, the walkway opens up to reveal South Korean artist Lee Ufan’s 2017 painting titled “Dialogue.”
“The semi-circular shape of the pavilion invites the visitor into a journey to explore the space and experience the various essences of wood,” Kuma told Dezeen. “The porous structure is assembled like a tridimensional puzzle without the use of metal connections to be able to reassemble it in a different location.”
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Woven throughout Selva Aparicio’s cicada veils and fringed floor coverings are the complexities of rebirth, transition, and beauty’s ability to endure. Organic ephemera—human hair, thorned branches, scavenged wings—become poignant installations and smaller artworks that ruminate on a myriad of global issues, including the climate crisis and the infinite failures of the medical establishment.
Aparicio shares that her explorations of life and death began during childhood when she watched the natural world cycle through growth and decay in the woods outside of Barcelona. This lasting fascination has crystallized in the artist’s body of work, particularly in pieces like “Velo de luto (Mourning veil),” which sews together 1,365 seventeen-year cicada wings with strands of hair taken from two generations of women. The shrouds typically are worn to honor a spouse who’s died, and Aparicio notes the material and form exemplify that “as the fragility of the veil of wings decay so does the patriarchal veil of history that it represents.”
Overall, the artist says that her “practice has evolved beyond the individual to encompass environmental, social, and political activism and evoke the change and rebirth I witnesses in nature.” “Childhood rug,” for example, merges personal memory and a domestic object with larger themes of covering and exposing trauma.
Similarly, Aparicio cites her own experiences in “Hysteria,” an installation that surrounds an antique gynecological table with a curtain of thorned branches. Commenting broadly on the unjust power dynamics inherent within traditional healthcare, the artwork draws a direct correlation between the invasive and painful processes of medicine for women and their ability to bring new life into the world.
Although she spends half her time in Barcelona, Aparicio is currently in Chicago and has work on view at two locations: her piece “Hopscotch” is part of MCA’s group exhibition The Long Dream, while her solo show Hysteria is at the International Museum of Surgical Science, where the artist is in residence. Both are slated to close on January 17, 2021. Head to Instagram for glimpses into Aparicio’s process, as well.
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Although Lucy Sparrow is adept at treating scrapes and bouts of indigestion, her medical specialty lies in helping folks suffering from heart disease, IBS, and various illnesses caused by fiber deficiencies. The U.K.-based artist set up shop with The Bourdon Street Chemist, a fully-stocked, woolen pharmacy that’ll open its doors on January 18, 2021, at London’s Lyndsey Ingram. Over-the-counter medications like plush bottles of Pepto Bismol, Tums, and aspirin line the shelves alongside creams and luxury fragrances.
Sparrow’s medical practice, though, expands beyond the drug store with an entire surgical unit for more severe injuries and illnesses in her studio. The retro, tile-lined room is outfitted with traditional operation equipment and a woolen cadaver with compact organs, a skeleton, and even a bleeding heart.
Similar to her previous undertakings that filled bodegas and supermarkets with household goods, Sparrow hand-stitched the entirety of The Bourdon Street Chemist with painstaking precision, not only ensuring a variety of pharmaceuticals are available but also inscribing each tablet and bottle with fabric-paint labels. The artist established this new medical unit after converting a decommissioned ambulance into a “National Felt Service” vehicle and performing a live-felt-surgery at Miami Art Week in 2018.
Anyone who’s binged on Sparrow’s felt potato chips or wooly Sour Patch Kids can pick up a similarly fibrous remedy from the white-coat wearing artist, who stations herself in the large-scale installation. “There is something so intensely intimate in sharing your personal—and often embarrassing—ailments with a stranger. But because that stranger is wearing a white coat you feel safe and trust them with secrets you wouldn’t tell your best friend,” the artist says.
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Considering the possibilities of non-gendered motherhood, Toronto-born artist Tau Lewis stitches together oversized characters and floral tendrils that occupy a lavish fictional world. Textured swatches of fabric transform stark gallery space into pastel gardens and the idyllic universe of the “T. A. U. B. I. S.,” or the bulging-eyed creature with a protruding tongue shown above. Teeming with themes of compassion, joy, and freedom, the sprawling works evoke birth and the warmth of a womb filled with light.
Part of the collection titled Triumphant Alliance of the Ubiquitous Blossoms of Incarnate Souls—which closed last week at Toronto’s Cooper Cole—Lewis’s installations imagine an environment centered around abundance, which she explains:
Mutable and devoid of gender, they transmute into blossoms. Every blossom embodies a soul who is alive and listening. T.A.U.B.I.S. blossoms grow year-round, uni-wide, even in most harsh weather and on most hostile planets. The T.A.U.B.I.S communicate and collect intel through these blossoms.
A self-taught artist based in Brooklyn, Lewis hand-dyes vintage curtains, bed sheets, blankets, towels, and clothing that she sews into quilts and looming sculptural figures. Her body of work generally explores multiple facets of trauma and the ways manual labor can provide healing. From the textiles gathered throughout Toronto, New York, and her family’s home in Negril, Jamaica, Lewis patches together representations of community members and ancestors. “The transformative act of repurposing these materials recalls practices of resourcefulness in diasporic contexts; upcycling is a recuperative act that reclaims both agency and memory,” she says in a statement.
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A new installation by artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman masks the stately columns and ornate flourishes of Tate Britain’s facade, enveloping the London museum in a blanket of LED lights. In “Remembering a Brave New World,” technicolor symbols, pop culture references, and religious iconography transform the neoclassical structure into an illuminated space for celebration. The public artwork was revealed on December 14 to coincide with the start of Diwali, the five-day Indian festival of lights, and casts a kaleidoscopic glow on the surrounding area.
The eclectic collection draws on Punjabi Liverpudlian artist’s own life and family history, which manifests in pieces like the multi-colored ice cream truck. After moving to England, her father purchased one of the vehicles, an experience that imprinted her childhood.
Other elements focus on the United Kingdom’s history of imperialism: the Britannia figure at the building’s apex, for example, is camouflaged with Kali, the Hindu goddess of liberation and power, while the lower region features Rani of Jhansi, the warrior and leader of the Indian resistance against the British in 1857. “It’s important to critique buildings like this because they’re very Eurocentric,” Burman said in an interview with Dezeen. “So, I just thought: why not do something that captures what we’re all going through right now? I felt like it needed a blast of joy and light. And Diwali is about good over evil, about hope, unity and the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Glowing Hindu deities sprawl across the windows and arches, as well, including Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and purity, and Ganesh, the god of prosperity. The religious figures juxtapose the more playful elements, like a life-sized tiger, peacock, and pair of lips.
“Remembering a Brave New World” is the fourth annual winter commission by Tate Britain. The public artwork will be on display through the end of January, even while the inner halls of the museum are closed to visitors due to the ongoing pandemic. Follow Burman’s projects that explore questions of power and identity on Instagram.
Update: A previous iteration of this article incorrectly identified the lights as neon, not LED.
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