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Material Lab


Designers: Jae Cha, Anna Dyson, David Riebe

Anna Dyson and her collaborator David Riebe were finalists in the 2001 edition of YAP with an ecologically conscious project that mixed art, theory, and research with the process of making.

Q&A with Material Lab

MoMA PS1: How were you nominated for YAP?
Anna Dyson, Material Lab: The MoMA PS1 opportunity came right out of the blue. Alan Balfour, who was the Dean of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the time, nominated David Riebe and I for the competition. In fact, many of the RPI faculty have been YAP finalists—Jefferson and Nona of Ellinger/Yehia Design, Bill Massie. For whatever reason there was a cast of characters who were really into radically experimental work that was interesting for that particular competition.

MoMA PS1: What was your relationship with your collaborator David?
Material Lab: In 2001 David and his partner Beth Weinstein had a small practice at the Essex Studios. We looked at the YAP competition as an interesting theoretical project into which we might deploy some of the experimentation that was initiated with RPI engineers and some manufacturers that we were associating with. That year the theme was "Paradise Island," which for us meant a chance to focus on questions of ecology. I must say that this was very early on in some of our research so there was no way would have been able to do hydroponics at MoMA PS1 in 2000, even though we wanted to.

MoMA PS1: Do you mean right now or back then?
Material Lab: Back then! It may seem hard to believe from this vantage point, but ecological considerations were at that time definitely marginalized by many in the design professions, as they sometimes still are considered granola...tacky, maybe too instrumental and definitely not fun.

The jury wanted a music and dance space but in creating one, we wanted to give the people a palpable, sensorially different experience than when they were outside the space. Not just the usual spritzers and misters but really change the ecological condition of the air and the water in that small courtyard. We proposed tracking Thin-film PV panels on a tensile structural canopy and air plants everywhere. We did have real industrial sponsorship lined up for all of those items by the time we presented, but it may have seemed a little extravagant. The air plants would suck the toxins out of the air and become toxic themselves, little "biomonitors" that could index what was moving through the space. Coming from a background in the art world myself, the convergence of art and science was really interesting. Now we see this everywhere! Not that I'm bitter, because it was an honor to participate, but I do think that if we had proposed the project two or three years ago, we might have had a different reception.

MoMA PS1: It seems like you were all about ecology and science while SHoP, the 2000 winning team, was all about computers.
Material Lab: We were taking a conscious counterpoint position to SHoP because we felt like it was an amazing public opportunity to comment on the future of architecture in the same way that they did so well. SHoP was exploring CAD CAM and building through the digital realm in a way that many people had never seen before. It's now evolved ubiquitously but back then it was new. Gosh, it's amazing to see how recently it was! But, in terms of computers and fabrication, one of the key components of our design was disassembly and reassembly—cut the cord and everything lays down, is packaged, and then returned to its original form. We wanted to delve into the treatment of environmental issues and resist some of the digital euphoria that we are all susceptible to. We're not against that, but there was another story to what the computer could do for us with a public space like MoMA PS1 that was equally fascinating to us. Let's face it, what is it? It's a temporary installation and in the end, it needs to come out as quickly as it comes in...what happens to all that stuff? That was a really interesting, dare I say, poetic question for us to explore, and it's been a preoccupation in our work ever since.