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A Sense of Humanity

How do we conceive ourselves as a species? Does our self-awareness come from within or, instead, from the physicality of the world around us? The projects selected for this gallery look at the basic human senses - smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing - in order to explore how we consider ourselves as people in the world. Some explore the human craving for touch and physical contact, while some give insight into how we define our bodily awareness through repetitive motions. Others still, consider how our own consciousness might be heightened by adopting the more advanced senses of other species.

In our fraught contemporary society, ruled by technology and plagued with fears of artificial intelligence, it is easy to take for granted our environment and how it shapes us. The projects here provide a sense of grounding and paint a nuanced landscape of human connection while embracing an expansive view of the environment - one that can be both physical and digital, natural or artificial. Most importantly, taken as a whole, they seem to argue that our senses are the best tool to practice empathy - with each other, with the planet, and with other species.

Paola Antonelli

Paola Antonelli

Paola Antonelli is Senior Curator at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in the Department of Architecture & Design, as well as MoMA’s founding Director of Research & Development.

She has curated numerous shows, lectured worldwide, and served on several international architecture and design juries. She has taught at the University of California, Los Angeles; the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the MFA programmes of the School of Visual Arts in New York.

With a Master’s degree in Architecture from the Polytechnic of Milan, Antonelli has received Honorary Doctorate degrees from numerous universities, including the Royal College of Art. She earned the “Design Mind” Smithsonian Institution’s National Design Award in 2006, and in 2007 was named one of the 25 most incisive design visionaries by Time. In 2011 she was inducted in the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and in 2015 received the AIGA Medal.

Antonelli is the author of many books, including Humble Masterpieces (2005); Design and the Elastic Mind (2008); Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects (2011); Design and Violence (2015); Items: Is Fashion Modern? (2017); the XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival (2019): and Neri Oxman: Material Ecology (2020).

Her most recent exhibition, Neri Oxman: Material Ecology, opened at MoMA in February 2020. She is currently working on an iteration of Broken Nature that will be on view at MoMA starting in the fall of 2020, and on @design.emergency, an Instagram and book project on the role of design in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, in collaboration with critic Alice Rawsthorn.

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