2016 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial: Abject/Object Empathies

With fewer than 90 days to go until the 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale we admittedly have biennales on our mind. We thank one of our 2012 design interns, Chi-Chi Lin, for bringing this one to our attention.

The Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) is a campus wide organization that promotes collaboration and artistic experimentation to inspire innovative and challenging projects by students, faculty, departments and programs from all disciplines. The focus of the 2016 CCA Biennial 

is on the cultural production of empathyThe upcoming biennial will address the ways in which feeling is form and explore how the objects, buildings, clothing, machines, languages, and images we construct are shaped by our intentional or implicit emotional, interdependent relationship to others. Whether by framing a connection that already exists or by providing the condition for new connections, what we create can either merely extend our own personal desires, goals, and directives, or can alternatively function as a bridge between who I am and who you are so that aesthetic experiences are interdependent, collaboratively generated and inherently reciprocal. Continue reading

Keeping Shakespeare in Mind

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Quite a few of our team can attest to the power of a liberal arts education, especially when put in such a joyful context.

Scott L. Newstok’s convocation speech to the Rhodes College class of 2020 embraces this joy, adding the cheeky tweak of asking the incoming class to approach their college experience in the “spirit of the 16th century”.

Building a bridge to the 16th century must seem like a perverse prescription for today’s ills. I’m the first to admit that English Renaissance pedagogy was rigid and rightly mocked for its domineering pedants. Few of you would be eager to wake up before 6 a.m. to say mandatory prayers, or to be lashed for tardiness, much less translate Latin for hours on end every day of the week. Could there be a system more antithetical to our own contemporary ideals of student-centered, present-focused, and career-oriented education?

Yet this system somehow managed to nurture world-shifting thinkers, including those who launched the Scientific Revolution. This education fostered some of the very habits of mind endorsed by both the National Education Association and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: critical thinking; clear communication; collaboration; and creativity. (To these “4Cs,” I would add “curiosity.”) Given that your own education has fallen far short of those laudable goals, I urge you to reconsider Shakespeare’s intellectual formation: that is, not what he purportedly thought — about law or love or leadership — but how he thought. An apparently rigid educational system could, paradoxically, induce liberated thinking.

“Take advantage of the autonomy and opportunities that college permits by approaching it in the spirit of the 16th century. You’ll become capable of a level of precision, inventiveness, and empathy worthy to be called Shakespearean.”
So how can you think like Shakespeare?

Continue reading

Of Salt and Stories

“Salt Crystal Bridal Gown III” (left) and “Salt Crystal Bridal Gown VI,” both 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary

“Salt Crystal Bridal Gown III” (left) and “Salt Crystal Bridal Gown VI,” both 2014.
Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary

It starts with a story. Written by Russian playwright S. Ansky in the early 20th century, The Dybbuk is an expressionistic drama about a young bride possessed by the malicious spirit of a dead suitor, and subsequently exorcised.

Jerusalem-born artist Sigalit Landau took inspiration from the story and her powerful connection to the Dead Sea, an otherworldly place she grew up visiting frequently with her family, and that she has incorporated into her art for years. Her “Salt Bride” installation at London’s Malborough Contemporary, enlists the work of the sea itself, in which a traditional black Hasidic gown (a replica of the costume worn by the bride in The Dybbuk, as portrayed by legendary actress Hanna Rovina) is submerged into the sea’s hypersaline waters. The salt crystals accumulated naturally over the net-like weave of the dress, left submerged over a period of 3 months, during which the process was photographed as an organic time-lapse. “Over time, the sea’s alchemy transforms the plain garment from a symbol associated with death and madness into the wedding dress it was always intended to be.” Continue reading

The Chan Chich Lodge Night Sky

Night Sky by Chan Chich Lodge guest Phillip Witt

Night Sky by Chan Chich Lodge guest Philip Witt

A ping from my electronic calendar recently reminded me of the upcoming appex of the Perseid Meteor Shower between August 11th and 12th. I’d specifically marked it because this will be one of the first times I’ll be in a location so beautifully free of light pollution.

Although we do much of our work in remote locations, it’s surely a matter of luck to be in one of them at just this moment and this year,  when scientists say the meteor fall will be of the greatest density in 20 years. Chan Chich Lodge is located in the midst of 33,000 acres of private land, with the only infrastructure other than the lodge itself being a small village and the farming operations of Gallon Jug. 9-plus miles of trails branch off from the lodge, as well as simple gravel access roads. Continue reading

Corpse Flower Diaries

Photograph by Kathy Willens/AP

I first became aware of the amazing Amorphophallus titanum 4 years ago during a “bloom watch” of a Kenneth Post Lab Greenhouses specimen at Cornell University.  At the time the concept of a “Greenhouse Cam” was completely new to me, and I followed it, and the science behind the study of the plant, with fascination. Despite the rarity of the flower, a handful have bloomed within the past several years, the most recent being at the New York Botanical Garden.

All that said, the Corpse Flower by nature is the botanical version of a “comedic straight man” in the set up of story-based jokes. (For example, the scientific name means “giant misshapen phallus”.) Continue reading

A Tiger’s Tale Redux

Photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram

Photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram

International Tiger Day is my excuse to remember this post from three years ago, as a continued reminder of the importance of doing whatever we can to save these amazing creatures in the wild.  Meeting wildlife photographer Sudhir Shivaram, and some talented participants of his master bird photography workshop, (many of whom now contribute to this site), has consistently given all of us a window into wildlife viewing that few of us have the privilege to enjoy.

I actually write this from Chan Chich Lodge in Belize, a location that offers the amazing opportunity to be in the habitat of “new world” cats such as jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. We’ll write about what we’ve seen so far and what the fantastic staff has shared with us in separate posts – as here we want to honor the tiger. Continue reading

Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Atlanta

Vik Muniz Double Mona Lisa (Peanut Butter and Jelly), from the After Warhol series, 1999 Chromogenic print Galerie Xippas, Paris Art © Vik Muniz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

It’s easy to be a fan of Vik Muniz’s work on so many levels: his visual wit redefining materials as medium for art; his entrepreneurial use of art to bring attention to disenfranchised communities; the collaborative spirit clearly evident in so many of his works… I, personally, love his cheeky reproductions of the world’s iconic artworks, rendered in the most banal of mediums.

A mid-career retrospective, currently mounted at the High Museum of Art Atlanta covers the full range of his work from grand to microscopic scale, using diverse media—including food, dust, string, sugar, magazine clippings, and literal junk.

On view through August 21, 2016.

All the Ducks in a Row…

Of the many volumes in our family bookcase, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal always held pride of place. The stories, the charm and personality of the illustrations, made them family favorites to be read over and over at story time.

It’s not surprising to read that the artist took his work so seriously as to fill his Greenwich Village apartment with a clutch of ducklings for inspiration.  Continue reading



Welcome! Walk barefoot in the sand…you know you want to!

Stroll through the meandering pathways and wander past curated views of trees rustling in the wind.

Fundamentally, Xandari Pearl is an invitation to relax and rest, pearl-like, in the arms of curved walls, to the lullaby of the sea.

Come see for yourself…


Poisson d’Avril Redux

It’s a rare occasion that we republish one of our posts on this site – but April 1st is a special day, is it not?And as the sultry weather continues in Cochin and we dream of the cooling monsoons, a little bit of lighthearted Spring frolicking won’t go amiss.

It was unlike me to have missed acknowledging the Vernal Equinox last week but please note that it wasn’t forgotten. In much of the northern hemisphere spring began sprouting all over the place, sometimes unseasonably early, and the first day of spring was observed in all its glory in Crist’s Holi series.

So I’m being careful not to miss April 1st and in the spirit of that celebration am sharing some of artist Ken Brown‘s collection of turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th that is!) French fantasy postcards that celebrate “Poisson d’Avril”, the French equivalent of April 1st or April Fools’ Day. Continue reading


The ocean stirs the imagination and inspires the heart. In its frolicking waves and every grain of sand is a story of the earth. And the beautifully timed crash of the waves whisper about nature’s simple treasures. For the sea and its tales along the land are a continual miracle. – Rosanna Abrachan

The tale we hear is thrilling – of knowledge passed down for generations, of artisanal fishing practices that grace us with sustenance from the Arabian Sea without depleting her waters.

Come sea!

Ornithological Epicenter

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

– Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, 1859

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has long been a leading presence in the study, appreciation and conservation of birds. From citizen science programs, to eBird, to research collaboration with the the National Geographic Society, the Lab has helped to educate the public about the environmental importance of birds. The Wall of Birds, titled “From So Simple a Beginning,” from the Darwin quote above, celebrates the world of birds, showcasing biodiversity and evolutionary change, by featuring species from all surviving bird families alongside several extinct ancestors.

The scale of the mural is mind-blowing! The world map covers the largest wall of the Lab’s visitor center, with life-sized birds from each of the 243 taxonomic families of the world, placed in their geographical endemic locations. Check out the scale of the flying albatross in the lower left of the mural! The pale, gray scale depictions of the extinctions and ancestors adds to the complexity of the mural.

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Roots and Anchors

Anybody can welcome you to a destination. Tell you about the must-do and the must-see. Weave you through its facts and fables, seat you through its culinary journey. At Xandari, we welcome you to our people. And the living stories they are. From what’s cooking to an effective cure for colds, good ol’ ways of growing with the land to dreams by the beach, we hear them loud. And, are part of them.

Here’s to our pride. Here’s to our people. Here’s to our family.

Rosanna Abrachan

Community, Collaboration and Conservation are the “3 Cs” that we stand by, and crafting these videos felt like a large family gathering with a smorgasbord of experiences to choose from. Thank you Anoodha and the RAXA CollectiveXandari Pearl teams!

Stay tuned for more!

Leap Day Leaping


We assume our calendars and clocks are based on fixed constructs, but don’t always take the time to consider the science behind them.The facts and rhymes we memorize in school – 365 days in a year; “30 days hath September, April, June and November, etc.” are thrown off balance by the fact that the actual number of days required for the earth to complete its orbit around the sun are not whole numbers.

It officially takes around 365¼ days (precisely 365.242) to complete the orbit. In 45BC Julius Caesar’s official astronomer Sosigenes balanced the calendar with the addition of a day every 4 years.

So what happens with those of us born on said day? Continue reading

Avant Guard

The guards at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles aren't just here to protect the art — they're also expected to engage and educate. They're called visitor services associates, and they've gone through hours and hours of training to become ambassadors for contemporary art. Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging/The Broad Art Foundation

The guards at The Broad Museum in Los Angeles aren’t just here to protect the art — they’re also expected to engage and educate. They’re called visitor services associates, and they’ve gone through hours and hours of training to become ambassadors for contemporary art.
Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging/The Broad Art Foundation

I can easily spend hours wandering museum galleries – viewing Art, artifacts and people – it’s all fascinating. More likely than not every other room I’ll pass an ever present museum guards, usually efficient, sometimes friendly. Always in uniform. The directors of The Broad Museum in L.A. are viewing this important role in a new light. Dressed eclectically in black with red lanyard IDs, the VSAs (Visitor Service Associates) are well-trained crosses between guard and guide. Their knowledge and friendly delivery creates a concierge museum experience, which seems especially appropriate for a private collection museum.

Guard Sabrina Gizzo might easily be mistaken for a docent. She’s talking with some visitors about Thomas Struth’s huge color photograph of a crowd at a museum in Florence Italy. In the photo, tourists are dressed in summer clothes — shorts, T-shirts, caps, sneakers. Struth photographs the crowd facing us, looking up at something we can’t see. As Los Angeles visitors to The Broad study Struth’s photograph — a museum crowd looking at another museum crowd — one Broad visitor notices that a man in the photograph is wearing sunglasses clipped to the front of his shirt. Gizzo suggests that her guest take a very close look at the sunglasses.

Why? Turns out, if you look closely, a famous statue can be seen in the reflection of the man’s glasses: Michelangelo’s sculpture of David.

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You Are Here

You Are Here.

Three small words found on map boards from metros to malls around the world, usually accompanied by a red dot. Existential words to be sure. Words whose underlying message begs us to live with intention.

The RAXA Collective team crafted the Xandari Harbour walking map with the same deliberateness.

Come explore with us!

Step out from Xandari Harbour’s red door. Go right. Go left. You can’t go wrong!


click below to view the map!

Continue reading