Nature Reimagined

American biologist and author Edward O. Wilson popularised the term “biophilia” when he used it describe his theory that, as humans have evolved as a species, they have remained intricately intertwined with the organic world. Now, Denver Art Museum shows how this idea applies to the current age in which we live – a time which can often feel far removed from nature. There are more than 80 works by leading architects, artists and designers, including contributions from Iris van Herpen, who blurs the lines between fashion and technology; Studio Gang, whose buildings are recognised for their focus on sustainability; as well as immersive art pioneers like teamLab and DRIFT.

The idea that “there’s nothing new under the sun” is central to this show. It is jam-packed with projects that draw attention to how natural structures, in some form or another, provide the basis for almost everything we design and make. And acknowledging this can have huge benefits for both people and planet alike. Speaking with Aesthetica, Jeanne Gang, founder of Studio Gang, says: “From my earliest work, I have studied how animals shape their homes – nests, hives, beaver dams – by working with the constraints of particular climates and with other species for mutual benefit. Applying this understanding to design yields an architecture that responds to its site; uses minimal energy and appropriate materials; serves the needs of its inhabitants; and engages a network of others who will encounter it.” Moreover, Denver Art Museum shows us what’s next for architects and designers who are interested in biomimicry. Generative algorithms are enabling the simulation of naturally occurring shapes, sequences and patterns with varying degrees of abstraction. A case in point is Nervous System design studio’s Floraform Chandelier, which casts a dense forest of shadows and envelops the viewer in an environment of algorithmically grown plant forms. The reproduction of complex and nearly inexpressible geometries has now become possible via computation.

The climate crisis is, of course, one of the biggest and most looming threats of our times. Many of the pieces in Biophilia aim to refresh people’s understanding and appreciation for the natural world, doing so via interactive means. Audience participation is encouraged through installations like Meadow, for example, a kinetic sculpture that reacts to visitors as if they were the sun to a blooming flower. The upside-down landscape – created by Dutch artists Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta of DRIFT  – consists of mechanical blooms that open, close and change colour based on the movements of people below. It’s a relaxing and visually satisfying experience designed to show how, even in a digital world, nature remains integral to our wellbeing. Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the museum, agrees, saying: “Biophilia explores the human need to connect with the natural world and its ability to improve our health, spark the imagination, and strengthen personal and community relationships.”

Biophilia: Nature Reimagined is at Denver Art Museum until 11 August.

Image Credits:
1. DRIFT, Meadow, 2017. Site-specific kinetic sculpture; variable dimensions. © 2023 DRIFT. Represented by PACE Gallery. Photograph by Oriol Tarridas, courtesy of Superblue Miami.
2. Studio Gang’s Populus Hotel, currently underconstruction, is designed to activate the corner of 14th and Colfax in downtown Denver. Rendering © Studio Gang.
3. teamLab, Flowers and People – A Whole Year per Hour, 2020. Interactive Digital Work, 6 channels, Endless, Sound: Hideaki Takahashi © teamLab, courtesy of the Artist and Pace Gallery.