Some of the most exciting artists working today are focused on the overlap between biological development and human-manipulated craftsmanship, as evidenced by the A.I.-enhanced music made by the composer Holly Herndon and by the curious objects fabricated by Neri Oxman, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. Over the course of her career, Oxman has used emerging technologies in order to create extraordinary, aesthetically compelling fusions of the natural world and the structured world of fabrications. On Saturday, the Museum of Modern Art will kick off an exhibition of seven of Oxman’s “demos:” objects that represent an eventual library of potential processes and materials that every designer in the world might someday be able to access.
The sculptural objects that Oxman creates are certainly compelling, but she also has the distinction of being personally compelling enough to see her name crop up in other mediums, such as in the universe of Netflix television and even in the celebrity tabloids. Oxman made an appearance last year on the Netflix documentary series called Abstract: The Art of Design, and became more widely known to the general public back in 2018, when (unsubstantiated) rumors swirled that she was dating Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt.
However, Oxman’s ideas are of course far more interesting than her public persona. In 2010 she coined the phrase “material ecology,” which is defined as “the study and design of products and processes integrating environmentally aware computational form-generation and digital fabrication.” Her sculptures reflect her skill level when it comes to intellectual gymnastics: they could take the form of gnarled metal, cup-shaped water or something completely unrecognizable, but every “demo” by Oxman has a romantically ethereal quality that transcends the form it occupies. It’s almost as though her sculptures attain the quality of seeming post-human.