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Modern Myth explores the renewed interest in folklore and storytelling by creatives from various countries and cultures. It shows us a contemporary, multi-ethnic world, filled with infinite stories. From movies, videogames and blogs to novels, design and art — the significance of mythological figures, patterns and motifs points towards an expanding global visual culture where designers create richer and more locally relevant products. Even in a modern context, these tales of metaphorical creatures and adventurous heroes still fill us with awe and wonder.

What’s driving this trend?

CONTEMPORARY MYTHOLOGY Myths are the stories people share to access their cultural identity and history. As more and more people share their stories and cultures online, ancient fables become intertwined and modernised.

What’s driving this trend?

MULTIPLE HISTORIES The Performing Histories exhibition at MoMA in New York looks at how the history of all cultures is a kind of mythology, filled with both fact and fiction. The artists involved explore how we tell the stories of our past and how new connections can be made across different cultures and times.

What’s driving this trend?

SCIENCE & STORYTELLING MIT scientist and designer Neri Oxman believes “mythology is the real inspiration of all modern design”. Whether we call it myth or science, explanations for the origin of man and the universe have always been sought. Today, the boundaries between science and storytelling are increasingly blurred.

Research & Reference

Cosmic folk creation

Digital mythology

Futuristic fables

Design fictions

Contemporary artists are weaving stories in a way that echoes traditional cultures from around the world. Peruvian quilting, kilim weaving and traditional Indian Gond narratives all tell stories outside Western conventions; a single canvas showing an entire story through composition and interwoven geometries.

Architects and artists are tapping into the local folklore of regional landscapes, creating fairytale-like structures that embody the community’s history. Part of the Living Architecture initiative, FAT architects collaborated with Grayson Perry to build A House for Essex, a building inspired by fairytales and folklore on the east coast of England, celebrating the psyche of the county.

Even gifs explore the intersection of handcraft and technology, static and motion. Illustrator Tara Dougans creates crafted gifs using traditional hand-drawn animation techniques to translate catwalk looks into mystical fashion drawings.

The new music video Dinosaurs for Dubstep band 16bit is an illustrated mythological epic, featuring a montage of psychedelic storytelling.

Mythology is a way to decode our cultures. Artist Matthew Cox explores iconic mystical characters like the Indian god Krishna, viewed through electromagnetic radiation, as a way of combining ancient mythology and modern science.

Artist Lu Yang’s Wrathful King Kong Core mixes ancient Buddhist cosmology with Western psychoanalysis, translating gods into gaming environments.

Eastern cultures take Western contemporary tales and rework them, turning them into established myths that make sense for a regional audience. The movie Endhiran the Robot, an Indian science-fiction film, sees cloned robots transform into the Naga serpent from Hindu mythology.

In China, adapted ancient mythological characters and stories are used online as code to discuss censored topics. Characters like the Grass Mud Horse have become popular icons among in-the-know society.

Familiar local mythologies are combined with futuristic visions to create modern global narratives. The video work Allegoria Sacra by artists AES+F - a reimagining of Giovanni Bellini’s view of purgatory - shows idealised exotic African tribesman alongside retro-futuristic sci-fi visions of space.

Architects and designers exhibit nostalgia for our past visions of the future. MVRDV’s architectural design for China’s Comic & Animation Museum in Hangzhou celebrates a retro-futuristic space age; while an Arts Catalyst project re-enacts the 60s moon landing, questioning the accuracy of belief.

Our futurist imaginings are powered by the flood of amateur satellites sent into space by young space enthusiasts; and by the recent launch of sci-fi magazines like Arc and Monolith.

Thrilling and wondrous imagery from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity inspires a digital space age aesthetic.

Designers are using less empirical concepts for future creations and instead turning to ancient stories, mythological beasts and their imagined superpowers as inspiration. French artist ClĂŠment Briend combines the textures of trees with light projections to cast striking images of gargoyles onto the leaves, making them come alive.

Design fictions is a movement in design that creates products for an imaginary future world. Bruce Sterling describes it as “an approach to design that speculates about new ideas through prototyping and storytelling�.

Taking Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings as her source material, designer Neri Oxman has developed a series of garments infused with elements of the super-human. Created using advances in 3d printing, each piece is based on a mythical beast and encapsulates a magical gift like invincibility, serpentine body armour or maternity support from the goddesses.

The need to live in temporary, fictional societies and imagined, unplugged worlds is shown through the overwhelming attendances at festivals such as Burning Man, Coachella and the newer Boomtown. Similar references are found in Today’s Supernatural music video by Animal Collective.

Key takeaways • Mythology as a way to tell the story of today’s culture • Architecture and craft explore ancient cosmic mythologies • Using ancient craft in digital constructions • Futuristic imagination and the re-emergence of sci-fi • Design fictions – a storytelling approach to design

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