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8 Decidedly Different Benches to Sit On

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Just a few yards from my home, a municipal walking trail crosses the river on a refurbished old bridge set aside just for pedestrians. Many cities and towns are seeing the value in providing sidewalks and trails to encourage walking, and a place to sit and rest makes it easier for folks to get into the walking routine -and benches in public spaces encourage socializing as well. Outdoor benches can also be works of art, whether for the public, the privacy of your back yard, or in a museum. Here's a roundup of some recent innovations in sitting benches.

1. Push That Button!

This bench is for sitting, but it's also a real light switch! The work is called "Zet die knop om!" which translates to "Push that button!" The bench itself lights up when the switch is pushed. The statement it makes is about the responsibility we all have to conserve energy, and the hope is that people will use the light when needed, and switch it off when they leave. This arty bench was designed by Dutch studio HIK Ontwerpers in 2008 and exhibited in the public spaces of Utrecht and Amsterdam.

2. Chesterfield

Park benches are usually designed to withstand the elements, vandals, and children. In contrast, Dutch designer Joost Goudriaan built an outdoor bench in Rotterdam that's all luxury. This Chesterfield bench features tufted genuine leather upholstery for style and beauty. How long will it last? Dutch vandals may stop and think before destroying a bench that practically begs you to sit on it and relax.   

3. Truck Tailgate

Kathi Borrego and her husband value the ability to turn junk into useful objects. They built a bench using the tailgate of an old Chevrolet pickup truck that had been in the family for many years. The truck was falling apart, but a piece of it lives on. Read about the process of building the bench at her blog.

4. Books

This bench, photographed by DeviantART member Funnysock, is found in Berlin. It's a lovely picture, and a nice idea for recycling, but just think of the mildew and possible critters housed in this stack of paper.

5. Chair+Chair=Bench

Korean designer Jiwon Choi designed a bench that might be used in the movie Inception. On first look, it seems to be useful in a gravity-free situation only. But it's called "Chair+Chair=Bench." The two chairs can be used from either end (although not both at the same time) to conserve space, and the structure can be laid on its "front" to be used as a bench. Photograph by Andrew Haarsager

6. Huge Sudeley Bench

Pablo Reinoso designed the Huge Sudeley Bench. It consists of swirling steel bars that form arty abstract loops at each end with a real sitting bench in the middle. The nine-meter long bench was commissioned as part of an exhibit of seating outside Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England in 2010, after which it was auctioned off. Photograph by Pablo Reinoso Studio.

7. Modified Social Benches

Danish designer Jeppe Hein built a series of public benches for the coastal town of De Haan in Belgium. Called "Modified Social Benches," the basic design resembles normal park benches, but each is altered in a way that makes sitting on them a challenge of sorts. The aim is to make the user more conscious of the space and the act of sitting on a bench. They also invite conversation by subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) skewing reality. See more pictures here.

8. Polymorphic

Although it is supposed to be outdoor seating, the kinetic interactive bench called Polymorphic may as well be a playground! Made of 119 linked sections, the bench moves and molds its shape to your weight. Put pressure on one section, and the adjoining sections move as well to create a shape conforming to your body. Polymorphic was designed by seven students at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture. See videos of the bench in action and under construction at the project site.

Bonus: Invasion of the Park Bench

As long as we are thinking about park benches, let's see a couple of slightly-malfunctioning robots try to take over the world. Or maybe, due to their size and the fact that there's only two of them, just the local park bench.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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