Art + Nature Collaborations

A piece from the Hakona Open Air Museum. Via A.K.A. Wayward.

I think within every artist are two desires that smolder alongside their fiery passion to create — mastery and immortality.

First, they want to be good at what they do, whether it be painting, writing, or playing the cello. They generally aspire to achieve an optimum level of expertise. This means mastering their skills, and conquering, mastering, controlling their medium, making pigments, words, or sounds obey and do their bidding. Even in spontaneity and exuberance, in improvisation and working on the fly, all such actions always tend toward taming the paint or marble, coaxing it into submission.

And then what artist doesn’t want to live on through their works? Even though they do tend to be their own worst critics, and want to banish from existence all works that are considered sub-par, the creations that survive this merciless judgment –these they want to live on — at least past their lifetimes, if not forever. These masterpieces are wrought from their minds and souls, brought forth from their depths not without difficulty, usually with much anguish. It is but natural instinct to want to preserve the perfection of their works and protect them from destruction.

For all these reasons I feel great admiration for the artists behind the installations featured in today’s post. They are hugely ambitious in scope and scale of their works, but they relinquish control of what their art will ultimately become. They give up any hope for their works’ longevity in engaging in a kind of partnership with a very unpredictable, temperamental and ever-shifting collaborator — Mother Nature. They do their part, and allow their partner the freedom to finish it, and to eventually take it apart and ingest it. It seems awfully counter-intuitive, to surrender the products of their efforts to the elements, but there’s something achingly beautiful and infinitely joyful and transcendent about the letting go, the embracing of the unknown, the acceptance that everything is fleeting and transitory.

Via Photography Heat

Yarn Bombing - by B-Arbeiten. Via Street Art Utopia.

There’s so much playful exuberance in this work of “yarn bombing”. I can imagine the joy that it brings to all who see it.

By Jonna Pohjalainen - In Turku, Finland. Via Street Art Utopia.

The logs turned giant color pencils, bring a touch of rustic whimsy to the landscape.

Via Le Cahier Josephine

More woodsy cuteness!

By Dimitri Xenakis via Around Homes

Via Photography Heat

Found this really funny and quite brilliant. Who says art has to be all serious?

By Jason de Caires via Inhabitat

By Jason de Caires via Inhabitat

These last couple of pieces deserve special mention. They started out as sculptures made of cement created by Jason de Caires. What they eventually became are coral reefs and homes for various species of marine life. De Caires has placed many of his works in the ocean, making a vast underwater sculpture garden, which Nature has indeed put its own spin on, adding color and texture to the sculptor’s various figures.


Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , ,

Chowing Down in Chi-Town: A Visit to Slurping Turtle

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Chicago is known for many things: incredible architecture, world-class museums, endless shopping. And food, don’t forget the food! Years ago I would have been referring to deep-dish pizza or massive steaks but lately big name chefs have been filling the city with hot spots that feature cuisine from around the globe.

Image: Slurping Turtle

I’m a huge fan of Top Chef and dream about visiting all the contestants’ restaurants in this town, including season four winner Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat and Little Goat Diner) and fan-favourite  Fabio Vivani (Siena Tavern).  Top Chef Masters are also well represented: Tony Mantuan owns Spiaggia, while Rick Bayless has a plethora of Mexican restaurants in town. But the Master who really wins my heart is Takashi Yagihashi.

Image: Tracey Eckersley

This past weekend I finally got to eat at his place, Slurping Turtle. The Japanese-born, Chicago-based chef is best known for the French-Asian fusion cuisine of his other restaurant, Takashi but since it is a little pricey for my graduate student-budget I am happy that there is a more affordable option.

Image: Random Acts of Kelliness

Given the name, it is not surprising that this place is known for its udon and ramen bowls, full of meat and veggies waiting to be slurped up noisily with the flavourful broths they come in. But the real star of the menu is the izakaya, small plates meant to paired with drinks (and there is a wonderful selection of Japanese beers, sakes, and creative cocktails to do just that).

Image: Tracy Eckersley

Much of these little bites have an Asian-American flair to them. The Duck Fat Fried Chicken is more succulent and juicy than anything the Colonel offers, in small pieces that seem to come from some exotic miniature species. What really puts this dish over the top is the accompanying dipping sauce, a wonderfully creamy, slightly spicy siracha mayo.

Image: Tracy Eckersley

Pork Belly Snack features tender meat enrobed in a rich, sweet soy caramel ginger glaze atop pieces of flattened bao dough. The pickled cucumber and onions are reminiscent of traditional southern bbq sandwiches; a small arugula salad with sweet onion vinaigrette, Asian pear, and black sesame seeds replaces American slaw.  I would take this over a pulled pork sammy any day- and that’s saying a lot!

Image: Slurping Turtle

The Bincho menu also offers an impressive variety of meats, veggies, and seafood cooked over white charcoal (known as bincho-tan in Japanese). I wish I had been with a group so that I could order a bigger selection (enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon, shishito peppers with benito flakes, Washugyu beef, fried tofu- it all sounds awesome).

Image: Tracy Eckersley

Unfortunately by this time I was pretty stuffed but the bartender suggested I get the octopus and it was the perfect ending to my meal. The flesh was a little toothsome but with a clean, slightly briny flavour enhanced by the smoky charcoal.

Image: Foodspotting

I only wish that I had thought to grab a raspberry-wasabi or yuzu macaroon to go.

If you are in Chicago and looking for a satisfying meal, you should definitely check out the simple, fun food on offer at Slurping Turtle!


Posted in Culture, Food, Travel

Picking Up the Pieces: LEGO Design Projects

If you have had any exposure to children over the last few years then surely you have noticed the explosive renaissance that LEGO is enjoying amongst the smaller set. Packs have evolved from the simple combinations of bricks that I played with as a kid to complex set-ups like the Star Wars Death Star, which includes more than 3000 pieces (and a hefty price tag)!

Image: NBC News

There are stores dedicated to the stuff, catalogues to pore over and (as of last week) a hotel at the LEGOLAND Resort. I’m sure that many parents are sick of having all the bits and pieces underfoot but I must admit that seeing the bright little cubes brings out the kid in me. I just want to dive in and create.

Image: Nathan Sawaya: The Art of the Brick

I’m not alone. Artists and designers around the world are turning to LEGO as a medium of choice. New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya uses it to create dynamic sculptures.

Image: Dwell

French designers Simon Pillard and Philippe Rosetti, who work collectively as Munchausen Design, pulled off a colourful IKEA hack when they covered one of the company’s kitchen islands with over 20,000 LEGO bricks. Now there is a home improvement project that would keep the kids occupied over the school holidays!

Image: abgc

When Boys and Girls, an advertising agency in Dublin, approached the design and architecture gurus at abgc to redo their new digs, they had only one request: make the space playful but not juvenile. To inspire the team, Boys and Girls provided a Charles Mingus quote: “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” In the boardroom, the result was a stunning but sophisticated table crafted from over 20,000 brightly coloured blocks. How could one not be inspired sitting around this fantastic piece of furniture?

Image: My Modern Met

The folks at the graphic design company NPIRE in Hamburg did their own remodeling using sets from their childhood collections (as well as 80 new ones) to construct a dividing wall in their office space. And talk about dedication- it took over a year to complete! Check out the photos at My Modern Met for an overview of the slow, painstaking project.

Image: house of anaïs

Additionally, numerous designers and artists have been inspired to replicate the product in their own work. Lunatic Construction creates a variety of custom furniture pieces, from desks to coffee tables, using brick-like blocks in a rainbow of colours.

Image: If It’s Hip It’s Here

Swedish designer Staffan Holm taps into his childhood sense of fun, inspired by LEGO, to temper the gravitas of his CEO desk. He crafts the piece in solid beech and MDF coated in enamel paint to evoke the toy’s iconic shape; the result is a masterful combination of modern and baroque styles.

Image: Megx

Let’s face it- we all need a little more whimsy in our lives. I used LEGO to construct the architectural fantasies of my childhood and seeing it now makes me smile as I remember the hours of imaginative play that it inspired. Seeing these creations makes me want to dive back in and build something just as fun but on an adult-scale.

If you had the time (and the blocks), what would you like to make out of LEGO?


Posted in Design | Tagged , ,

Much Love for Mochi Ice Cream

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Via Spud U Crave

Mochi, that quintessential Japanese treat has found its way to the palates and hearts of the people of the world  This sticky rice cake/ball makes for an eating experience that one just wants to go back to again and again. It has a soft and smooth mouth feel, with an oh, so delightful sticky, chewy, resistance. And it usually comes filled with interesting fillings, from the classic sweet red bean paste, to the decadent raspberry white chocolate.

Via Dezato

As if it were not already wonderful to begin with, mochi has in recent years gotten wayyyy cooler — literally. I just want to sing the praises of Frances Hashimoto who first thought of filling mochi balls with ice cream. Genius! And in places where temperatures are getting up to a steamy 34° Centigrade, these frosty confections are a welcome relief from the overheated air.

The ice cream idea is novel, and yet its versatility opens itself up for even more creativity. And once that initial cool innovator got the ball rolling, others took it places, with different delectable spins on what is becoming a global favorite.

Via Mochiko

Add Oreos and milk to the mix, and you have a kind of east-meets-west comfort food.

Via Bubbies

It gets even cooler with this mint and chocolate variant.

Via Mochiko

It doesn’t even have to stick to ice cream. This one’s made with frozen yogurt, and some even use gelato (thus resulting in the term mochilato).

And on the off-chance that you’d like to attempt to make your own variant of mochi ice cream, here are some basic instructions from Japanese Ice  Cream blog.


Posted in Food | Tagged , , ,

Greening City

High Line nyc via house and gardening addicts

New York City’s High Line park is 2.3 km of landscaped public space that floats above the city on the old High Line tracks. Last time I was in New York we spent most of an afternoon exploring the park; it was a fabulous way to explore the city and it was amazing to see all the different people using the park, from wandering tourists to locals on their lunch breaks.

Today’s post is all about how people have managed to carve out a little piece of nature even in the busiest metropolises. As you will see it doesn’t just take a green thumb but also a willingness to think unconventionally.

Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai via tripify

One of the most majestic urban gardens is surely Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai. Created during the Ming Dynasty, strolling through the lush plant life and beautiful classic Chinese buildings is like stepping back in time. If you’re there see if you can spot the many sculptures, some of mythical creatures, as you make your way through the gardens many hidden spots.

Greenwall in MadridGreen Wall in Madrid via Treehugger

The Green Wall designed by Patrick Blanc is an extraordinary sight; it is almost as if you are looking at an optical illusion. The four story high garden can be found at the Caixa Forum, an arts and cultural space in the old industrial sector of Madrid.  The wall is home to 15,000 plants, proving that you don’t need to have a traditional large plot of land to create a greener city.

Brooklyn GrangeBrooklyn Grange via inhabitat

The Brooklyn Grange is the world’s largest rooftop farm, featuring 40,000 square feet of growing space for delicious produce. What I find most fascinating about large scale urban projects like this one is the vision of the people involved. To look at a concrete rooftop and see a thriving farm is amazing. Wouldn’t it be incredible if every city could have farms hidden in the sky?

Namba ParksNamba Parks in Osaka via daily tonic

In the densely populated city of Osaka there is little room for greenery, which makes spaces like Namba Parks so essential. The eight level garden is nestled between office and apartment buildings and the Namba train station.  The garden is fully integrated into its urban surroundings, providing an oasis from the chaos of city life.

BerlinPrinzessinnengarten, Berlin

The Prinzessinngarten in Berlin is a community garden built on a vacant lot that provides a place of solace, good food and community for numerous families and citizens in the city. Similar to other city parks, like The South Central Farm in L.A., the Prinzessingarten has had to fight for it’s survival, but those who love the park are working hard to ensure the garden is kept intact.

Nanyang Technological Institute in Singapore via freshome

The rooftop garden on the School of Art, Design and Media at the Nanyang Technical Institute in Singapore is a perfect marriage of architecture and garden design. The gently sloping roof is the perfect place for students to study, take breaks or look for inspiration. The result is a gorgeous building that shows that nature and progress can coexist.

These are just a few of the examples of urban gardening. Does your city have a public greenspace you’d like to tell us about? If you don’t think your city has enough of the green stuff then get planting. As you can see, rooftops, abandoned lots, and even walls can be places to grow.

Happy Friday Everyone!


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