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Zoe Ryan on Hyperlinks at AIC

A new exhibit opened this weekend at the Art Institute of Chicago. Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design explores the connects between architecture and design—as well as other disciplines like transportation, science, material innovations, manufacturing, and more. The exhibition is curated by Zoe Ryan (a featured Young Gun in our December/January 2011 issue and the Art Institute of Chicago's curator of design) and Joseph Rosa (the director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art), who conceptualized the show when they first came together at the Art Institute shortly after it added design to its department of architecture five years ago. We caught up with Ryan to ask her about the exhibit.

Spring city in Mexico by Matali Crasset
Spring city in Mexico by Matali Crasset

What was the inspiration for this exhibition?
I joined the museum four years ago as the first curator of contemporary design, and was working with Joe Rosa, who was working in contemporary architecture, building the department's collection to be much broader and more international in scope since, five years ago, the department became that of architecture and design.

We wanted to work on an exhibition that brought the two topics—architecture and design—together. It's not a blurring of boundaries—that's always been such a nebulous idea to me—but that architects and designers each have specific expertise and you get this excitement when they create these hyperlinks, these connections.

We were also very inspired with what's happening with technology. With the Internet, you click on a link and are jettisoned somewhere else. To describe our connecting and interpreting of ideas based on associating and juxtaposing of other ideas we appropriated the term hyperlink from the Internet and brought it offline. We need designers with designer talents and architects with architecture talents and we're now seeing them link up with other disciplines, hyperlinking.

Curator Zoe Ryan, posing for our <a href="http://www.dwell.com/magazine/Young-Americans.html">December/January 2011</a> Young Guns feature.
Curator Zoe Ryan, posing for our December/January 2011 Young Guns feature.

Installation by Simon Heijdens
Installation by Simon Heijdens
How do you see these hyperlinks in the exhibition?

When you walk into the show, you aren't going to know if it's an architecture or a designer—or a collaborative—who created the work. From the beginning we were thinking how architecture and design relate to each other, what really brings them together. Today design is so many things: critical design, social design, digital design, and so on.

Greg Lynn is very interested in the boundaries of materials in furniture or products and exploring their potential in architectural environments. He developed hammock structures made from sail cloth, which is a very advanced material that's very strong; it can carry up to 800 pounds but is only two pounds itself and you can crumple it up and stick it in your pocket.

Simon Heijdens, a Dutch designer, looked at how you can animate static and architectural spaces. He's interested in breaking boundaries between inside and outside spaces, creating climatic conditions inside architecture. He's patented a new technology that's a plastic film applied to a window that has LEDs trapped inside and a current running through it. When the wind passes over, it activates this beautiful installation and flickering lights go across the building. The more wind, the more dramatic it becomes. It's very much inspired by Chicago and the Windy City and since we have windows in one of our galleries, it makes for a very special situation.


What's your favorite piece in the exhibition?
When you're working so hard on a show like this, you fall in love with all the projects, become obsessed with all of them. There's one project I really hope goes to market. It's the LightLane by Evan Gant and Alex Tee. It's genius, absolutely genius. It's a piece you stick on the back of your bike that produces digital rays to cast your own bike lane. Everybody needs a bike lane and this lets you creates your own when there's not one there.
LightLane by Evan Gant and Alex Tee
LightLane by Evan Gant and Alex Tee
Besides bike lanes, what do you hope the public gets out of the exhibit?

Our job is to inspire people to appreciate architecture and design and realize it's a process. It's also understanding that architecture and design are moving beyond past practices and historical discourse. Time and space are no longer fixed and the Internet is fueling new thinking and challenges. I want people to go back to their everyday environments and have a greater understanding of the relationships they have with one another and the objects and spaces they're surrounded by and how the work of architects and designers can benefit people on all levels.

Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago now through July 20, 2011.

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