Design At Extreme Scales

We often hear the phrase “design is all around us.” That usually refers to items such as artworks in galleries, the clothes we wear, the books and magazines we read, or the furniture in our houses. 

Design, however, also happens on a more intimate, even microscopic level. And at a much larger more global and conceptual scale. 

In today’s blogpost let’s look at three examples of artworks inspired by large, global and conceptual views of design. Artwork that, at the same time, suggests parallels at a more intimate level.

The first example is a painting by Sarah Trigg from her series titled Metastatic Explorer. The painting is based on overlaid maps of natural geography and man-made systems/responses. Here she starts with a map of Native American tribal territories and the organic pathways those people developed for moving through that space. On top of this she has layered the paths developed by European explorers who moved into the same territory.

Sarah Trigg painting based on mapping systems

For Trigg the design characteristics inherent in natural forms and diagrams of large scale human activity are nearly identical to what we see at the cellular level of our own bodies. Trigg says, “I found it interesting that the explorer system seemed to develop with no regard to the forms of the Native American system – despite having to contend with the same geography. And eventually the explorer system caused the Native American system to change its normal functioning, much like cancer cells do to normal cells.” 

The next example is a painting by Shanghai artist Xinjian Lu from his City DNA Project. The paintings in this series are based on satellite photos found on Google Earth. The image below is a view of London. Rather than being mere copies of the photos, these artworks are heavily stylized and subjectively colored interpretations. Each finished painting suggests the patterns and rhythms of a particular city – its spiritual DNA.

Xinjian Lu painting based on satellite photos from Google Earth

The paintings by Xinjian Lu are both representational and abstract. Viewers who are familiar with a city being depicted here might recognize some landmark or a general pattern of streets. But like Piet Mondrian’s painting Broadway Boogie Woogie these paintings are more universal than specific. They describe the urbanization of modern China and the globalization of our entire contemporary world where every big city is now more or less generic.

Our final example is the short video titled Arena currently trending on many web sites. The video was created by Irish painter Páraic McGloughlin. Once again this is a piece created from satellite photos found on Google Earth. This time, however, the images are presented just as they were found. The only changes being that they are cropped to emphasize their similarities. Highways, entire neighborhood street grids and enormous structures seem to move about the frame as though they are merely small elements in an arcade game.

For those of you reading this in email click here to see the video.

McGloughlin says he wanted to show “…how we impact the planet leaving structural forms as we go.” He also paced the video to suggest “…a beating heart paired with the random sounds of daily existence.”

All three of these artists use resource materials – maps and satellite photos – that represent massive amounts of physical space. All three see parallels between their global perspective and the intimacy of the human body, from organs to cells to genetic material. They also recognize that the design of forms and systems is a consistent element that appears at every scale.

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