Sculptures test the boundaries of the possible in new NGV exhibition

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“If we’re going to have to build more sea walls, why wouldn’t we do it in a way that looks more sculptural, and provides more ecological value as well?” Goad says.

A technician constructs Leanne Zilka and Jenny Underwood’s “Knitted architecture” sculpture.

A technician constructs Leanne Zilka and Jenny Underwood’s “Knitted architecture” sculpture.Credit:NGV

“What’s really important for all this work is to have an aesthetic language that gets people interested. There’s no more beautiful language [than the natural world], we do a lot of sampling from natural rocky shorelines, and using a lot of software to optimise the systems, and minimise the amount of material we need to use.”

Other work commissioned by NGV for the exhibition includes knitted architecture and a carbon fibre “cloud” that recollects the flocking of birds.

Ewan McEoin, the NGV’s senior curator of contemporary design and architecture, says he wanted to give people a sense of optimism about the future.

“Yes, we’re all freaking out about nothing happening at [the COP meeting in} Glasgow, and climate change, and everything,” he says. “But these are just a few examples of really exciting things happening at the intersection between design and science and industry, examples for the public about what the future might look like and how it might be exciting – and better.”

“We don’t actually need more of the same products that we’ve got, we’re drowning in it. What we need is designers to shift into different ways of working.

“The supply chain structures are often colonial ones that persist from centuries ago… can we imagine another future? We think 10 years out if we’re lucky, but what would happen if we thought 10,000 years out? It’s kind of mind boggling.”

Roland Snooks with his “Unclear Cloud” carbon fibre sculpture.

Roland Snooks with his “Unclear Cloud” carbon fibre sculpture.Credit:NGV

He says looking at the natural world can give designers a head start because it has been iterating towards efficiency for billions of years.

But it’s a deep well of beauty, as well, especially when combined with modern design algorithms that use simple rules to generate complex structures.

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“What we see emerging is an aesthetic which is much more Baroque, more elaborate,” McEoin says. “Nature is rarely minimalist. The advent of digital technology is bringing much more ornate things into existence which have really been out of favour for a century.

“Once you’re relying on mathematics, you’re relying on nature.”

Sampling the Future is at NGV Australia until February 6.