Wood: The Cyclical Nature of Materials, Sites, and Ideas

Ongoing Exhibition at The New Institute

Many of the qualities attributed to wood - natural, warm, pure - originate in the romantic appreciation of the forest. As such, both the latest and the rich historical narratives of wood are inextricably linked to the forest. But the forest is also a man-made landscape, a production machine subject to market laws. And current experiments with wood are leading to surprising applications in and outside the domains of architecture and design. The rich story of WOOD is told through design objects, architectural projects and artifacts from national and international collections, and  references diverse geographical, historical and cultural contexts, including German motorways, Ikea furniture, the forests around the destroyed Chernobyl nuclear power plant and Milton Friedman’s pencil.

The forest as a romantic ideal

In comparison with the artificial, degenerated city, the forest is often regarded as a place where humanity can exist in perfect harmony with nature, and redefine individual or collective identiy. It was not incidental that in the 1970s, architect James Wines saw wood as the ideal material for a critical counterculture and the forest as the idyllic response to a depraved society. Or, the carefully constructed image of president Putin depicted as a hunter or angler; Putin’s representation of the aspired power of Mother Russia is only made possible by using the forest as a complementing environment.

The forest as a production machine

Beyond romantic notions, the forest is also a factory and a laboratory. Ongoing research is designed to optimize the yield of intensive growth, and the genetic code of trees is being manipulated in special arboreal torture rooms in order to make them more immune to diseases or to dramatic changes in climates. At the same time, designers and architects continue to introduce new applications for wood, now discovered as the only truly carbon-neutral building material.

WOOD, the exhibition

WOOD. The Cyclical Nature of Materials, Sites and Ideas shows how the numerous products from forests carry traces of all these, often conflicting interpretations. WOOD showcases works by Aldo Bakker, Eelco Brand, Charles & Ray Eames, Ernst van der Hoeven, Chris Kabel, Lex Pott, Cedric Price, Bethan Laura Wood, Lukas Oleniuk, Onix, SeARCH, Hendrik Wijdeveld, James Wines and others. Their work is presented in a context of historical, cultural and societal references.

Series about materials

WOOD. The Cyclical Nature of Materials, Sites and Ideas is the first in a series of exhibitions about materials and their economic, cultural and social significance. Each exhibition will centre on a material, such as plastic or porcelain. The common thread is the complex relationship between innovation and conflict. The exhibition is part of the long-term programme De Dingen en De Materialen (Things and Materials).

Curators and designers

WOOD is curated by Dan Handel, in cooperation with exhibition designers Jannetje in ‘t Veld and Toon Koehorst. The exhibition includes works from the collections of Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), the Rijksmuseum and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The project benefited greatly from research that was conducted at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal as part of the Young Curator Program, which resulted in the CCA exhibition “First, the Forests” (4 October 2012 – 6 January 2013).

Learn more about the exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut's website.