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Saturday, July 4, 2020
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Suggestions for your senses,
every Saturday at 9 a.m.
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Good morning.

This week, we speak with Paola Antonelli about her and Alice Rawsthorn’s Design Emergency project, take a sake soak, make ricotta at home, look into the auditory impacts of fireworks explosions, and catch a whiff of BBQ smoke.

On our At a Distance podcast, we talk with Slow Media expert and scholar Jennifer Rauch, economist Matthew E. Kahn, and biologist Rob Dunn.

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See
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Designing in Crisis
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Photo: Marton Perlaki
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For more than 25 years, Paola Antonelli, the director of R&D and senior curator of design and architecture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, has critically expanded and challenged our understanding of design, with an astute and forward-looking perspective on the systems, objects, and environments that make up modern society. As chief curator of last year’s Milan Triennial, “Broken Nature,” she turned heads with the provocative idea that, in the face of environmental collapse, design should play a hand in creating a more “elegant ending” to mankind’s inevitable demise. With her latest project, Design Emergency, Antonelli has teamed with renowned London-based design critic Alice Rawsthorn to explore the role design has played—and could play—in addressing the global Covid-19 pandemic. Together, Antonelli and Rawsthorn are tracking and highlighting crucial developments and needs, amplifying the work of designers engaged in health care and social justice, and co-hosting weekly Instagram Live talks. We recently caught up with Antonelli, who’s been working remotely from home in Manhattan since the onset of the pandemic. (For more, listen to Spencer and Andrew interview Antonelli on Ep. 25 of our At a Distance podcast.)

How did you both decide to join forces for Design Emergency, and what would be the goal or ideal outcome of this project?

Alice and I have been friends and colleagues and peers for such a long time. We love and admire each other. We also know that we have some power, because of her incredible record as a critic and journalist, and for me, with MoMA and the curatorial work I’ve done. So when this emergency happened—and at the time that we started talking about it, it was centered on Covid-19—we decided to do something about it. To start, we’ve begun hosting a series of Instagram Live discussions once a week. Most of the time, these will feature a guest, and other times they are duets between the two of us. This is in addition to our posting, but we’re really very much at the beginning. Next, we’re going to publish a book about this particular topic—design for the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Alice already has an amazing and informative Instagram feed, so @designemergency became a way for the two of us to join forces and really show the power of design in situations of emergency and of need—to show that design is so diverse as to go well beyond the traditional definition of form-giving, or “form follows function,” to show how lively design has been throughout this crisis, and to once again argue for design to get a rightful and deserved seat at the table of policy-making and political discussions in general. And, in many ways, to take the opportunity to do what she and I have been trying to do throughout our entire careers, which is to demonstrate the fundamental importance of design in society.

What has it been like to steer and structure this project in the face of constant, drastic developments unfolding in real time, and all around the world? 

For now, we’re trying to really talk about the Covid-19 pandemic. But, of course, when we talk about “design emergencies,” there are always many to address, and the idea is to see how this larger project can mutate, change, and evolve to take on different subjects in the future. What we’ve seen in the past several weeks—with the police brutality, the murders, and the protests happening worldwide—is another huge emergency. I think it’s not time yet to highlight the role of design in this movement, because while design has some space in it, it’s really about a set of political issues that need to change, and that society is rightly protesting. 

I think that, in this case, we’ll focus on the pandemic and then separately, we’ll address, as we always do, what’s happening in the world, and what design can do about it. At this point, I’ve been at MoMA for twenty-six years, and, in a way, with all of my exhibitions and projects—they may all look different, but they are all the same. Because it’s always about design and life, and life is politics, so it’s about design and policy. 

Do you feel optimistic about the role designers can play in this moment?

More than forty million Americans are out of work, poverty is rampant, and social injustice has not abated—the situation is dire. But at the same time, the kind of fervor and passion you see from protesters in the streets, is the same kind of fervor that I notice often in the design community. I can see our communal, collective design mind moving towards really necessary applications and conversations, and that is heartening. As a designer, I feel very optimistic within the very constricted limits of the situation we’re in.

Still, I’m hoping that designers will really cut through all the white noise and focus, in order to do something about this disaster that is happening all around us. Designers are often sharing their work with me on Instagram, and I’ve seen a lot of projects that are cute, speculative, and, frankly, a little gratuitous—which is fine, it’s good to flex your creative muscles. But I hope that designers and all of us, as citizens, will concentrate on what’s truly needed in this moment to really change things, because the world that we want and that we’ve been trying to build is really in danger right now. I see what I do as a curator, I see what Alice does as a critic, I see what you do as a journalist as working toward the same goal: We’re all trying to make sure that by uniting all of our efforts we create enough momentum and enough weight and force to move things.

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Touch
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Super Soak
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Courtesy Basin
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Self-care is always a good idea—and given the anxieties and uncertainties of living in a pandemic, a crucial way to maintain your mental and physical resilience. Baths have been prized for centuries in cultures around the world, and for good reason: Stress causes muscles in your body to contract, and a hot bath can go long way to loosen you up and relieve tension, not to mention elevate your mood, reduce blood pressure, and boost the natural production of melatonin for a more restful sleep. These colorful sake soaks by Basin take your home-bathing ritual to the next level. The bottled concoctions, made from Japanese sake and a blend of all-natural moisturizing oils aren’t for drinking, but rather for adding straight into the tub. Kojic acid, a by-product of the rice-fermentation process used in sake, is said to have soothing, brightening, and anti-aging effects on skin—enough to consider making Sunday sake soaks a new weekend thing. A bonus to the resulting buzz? Zero hangover.

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Taste
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Chez Cheese
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Photo: Paola Sersante
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First came the sourdough craze; next, homemade cheese. Ricotta, to be specific. Since pandemic times, home cooking has taken on a life of its own. As the spaces in which we work, eat, play, and sleep have become, for many people, one and the same—and trips to run errands and grab groceries are kept to a socially distanced minimum—home cooks everywhere are embracing a slower, more intentional, zero-waste approach to cooking everyday foods, making do with ingredients on hand. 

“Obviously, we have a lot more time now than we did before, and I think it’s great that people are learning how to provide for themselves and their families,” said food artist Laila Gohar on a recent episode of At a Distance. “For me, it was so wild how far away we had come from that, as a species—the fact that most people don’t know how to handle a knife, don’t know what to do with a raw vegetable, is a little bit shocking. The fact that we’ve kind of been forced to go back to that, I think, is a really beautiful thing.” Now, making cheese at home may sound like a fussy ordeal, with different varieties calling for particular enzymes, ripening times, and methods to facilitate the fermentation process. Fresh ricotta, however, is incredibly simple (try this recipe), requiring only two ingredients: milk and lemon. Add a bit of patience, which is something we could all stand to practice, and enjoy.
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Hear
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Explosions in the Sky
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Photo: Andrew Zuckerman
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The 4th of July has at times been a fraught holiday for Americans, and the cause for celebration feels especially dubious this year, as protests for social justice continue amid a pandemic that’s spiking across the country (and hitting communities of color, including Native Americans, disproportionately hard). In recent weeks, the nostalgia of fireworks—a visual and auditory spectacle innovated by Chinese alchemists as early as 600 A.D., and used to celebrate Independence Day in the U.S. since 1777—have come under fire themselves. In major cities across the country, the blaring sounds of illicit fireworks going off late into the night have filled the streets for the past several weeks, at a rate unprecedented in recent years. In New York City, the number of complaints filed by residents in response to the constant booming, hissing, crackling, and popping of Macy’s-grade pyrotechnics increased nearly a hundredfold in the last month—and have given rise to more than a handful of conspiracy theories on social media. They’ve also sparked debates about race, gentrification, class, and the privilege of calling the police for “quality of life” complaints at all, at a time when police brutality and unlawful misconduct is being protested in the streets. News outlets, meanwhile, warn that “fireworks and hand sanitizer could make for a dangerous combination,” making the dazzling explosives, at least for this year, a peculiar, precarious assault on the senses, in more ways than one.

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Smell
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Up in Smoke
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Photo: Andrew Zuckerman
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Holiday weekend or not, summertime means grilling time. A waft of burning hickory or charcoal from a smoky barbecue grill is enough to make anyone’s mouth water—though, curiously, the smoke itself isn’t something we can actually taste, as the receptors on human taste buds don’t respond to smoke, at least on their own. Taste is formed by texture, flavor, and scent combined, and, as sensory scientist Marcia Pelchat once explained to The Independent, “Most of the flavor of smoke is smell.” Because scent is processed through the limbic system, the sensation also persists in our long-term memory, which may explain why a smoky aroma can elicit more memories than the meal itself. And as any BBQ lover knows, the sweet, smoky scent is bound to linger and cling to every fiber of the shirt on your back.

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Until next week...

Today’s email was written by Aileen Kwun.

Editor: Spencer Bailey
Creative Director: Andrew Zuckerman
Producer: Mike Lala
Copy Editor: Mimi Hannon

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