Next Level Craft at House of Sweden

Where: 2900 K St. NW, Washington DC
When: Saturdays and Sundays from 12-5 pm, through April 24th, 2016. Admission is free!

Two things I like: Scandinavia and pop-up art installations. WORLDS COLLIDING! There’s something about the remoteness and austerity of Scandinavia that I find compelling. I went through a stage where I read a lot of books set in Scandinavia (Smilla’s Sense of Snow, Let the Right One In, etc.) and then I tried my hand at making real Swedish meatballs using Marcus Samuelsson’s recipe. We have very dear friends who from Sweden who lived here temporarily for work, and I’m constantly asking them what life is like in Sweden and eating the various treats they bring back when they come to visit (micro-thin chocolate wafers with tiny crispies inside, a more refined Nestle Crunch, if you will). I just think everything about that part of the world is fascinating.

The Next Level Craft exhibition currently on display at House of Sweden (the Swedish Embassy) is one of just a long line of really fantastic, whimsical installations DC has put on lately. Breezing into town after the now- legendary Wonder exhibit and the glowing bunnies at Light Yards, Next Level Craft holds its own and is charming and fun and that special kind of freaky-deaky that only Scandinavian things can manage to be (I mean this in the best way possible). Like- there’s fish on skateboards. Somehow it makes sense? Just go with it.

Next Level Craft is a collection curated by Swedish artist Aia Judes containing examples of traditional Swedish handicraft created by 40 artists. You’ve got your birch weaving, your jewelry making, your glass blowing, something to do with burls, a music video, lighting and sound that change the room from day to night and back again, a teeny tiny herd of wood-carved reindeer.

The Swedish embassy itself is located right on the Georgetown riverfront and is the perfect embodiment of Scandinavian minimalism- clean lines, open and airy, no fuss and muss. I deeply appreciate this aesthetic even though I do not personally share it. Our Swedish friends’ home was fascinating to me- even with a preschool-aged boy in the house it was always clean in that sparse, crisp way Swedes tend to have and things that were intended to be white actually stayed white. I still don’t know how that was possible. The building itself is a work of art, with elements incorporated into its design that are art pieces on their own. You enter the embassy through a glass paneled wall with water running down the insides- this is March 6 a.m. and was designed to evoke the feel of melting ice, a key feature of the Swedish landscape. There’s also a really well-done and thoughtful exhibit on the main level about gender equality which is absolutely worth taking a look at before heading into Next Level Craft.


The Next Level Craft exhibit is located on the lower level of the House of Sweden and takes up just one room. But that one room is crammed with whimsy and delight:


We showed up right around noon on Saturday and surprisingly, it was totally empty and we had the place to ourselves. I can’t lie, this always enhances the experience for me. I get very selfish around art; I’ll hear the clickwhirr of a DSLR camera nearby and get very possessive. “You can’t take a picture of that, I thought it was pretty first.”


The exhibit has two modes: daytime and nighttime. We entered in daytime, with bright sunshiny light and sweet little bird chirping sounds. As we walked around, the lighting dimmed and shifted to nighttime and the corresponding music video Aia Judes created for the exhibit began playing on all the walls in the exhibition room. It features pulsing music and Swedish artists displaying a variety of Swedish handicraft, plus a pair of dancers vogueing. It is intense. I loved it!




The kind people at the embassy had taken the time to set up a room with various craft stations for kids so that they could get some hands-on instruction in the art of crafting, which I appreciated because look, crafting is just not my thing. It makes a mess, it takes so much patience- it’s not for me one bit. Of course, somehow, crafting at the Swedish embassy was not at all messy and was a tidy little endeavor thanks to that very unique ability Swedes have to not be a disastrous mess like Americans.


Don’t you agree kids who are growing up in this area are just the luckiest? They surely don’t appreciate this yet but they are so fortunate to just wake up on a Saturday morning and then go spend some time painting at the Swedish embassy. This is a blog about loving where you live and appreciating what makes this area so special, and I’m counting this experience as an example of that premise.

If you have little ones who get antsy or bored in the craft exhibit, the embassy has thoughtfully provided a small quiet room just for kids with books, games, and quiet little reading nooks where they are free to play and explore.


Mine stayed awhile in here with dad to play while I explored the exhibit without distraction, but they did enjoy the exhibit a great deal and came back in for a second tour through when they were done in the rumpus room. While not kid-friendly in the sense that it is absolutely not interactive and visitors are prohibited from touching the crafts, Next Level Craft does appeal to kids and feel accessible to them because it’s so fantastical and creative- so ultimately, I’m calling it kid-friendly with the caveat that you watch them like hawks to make sure they don’t climb up on platforms or touch anything.

This exhibit is temporary, so today and then next weekend will be your last opportunities to visit, and I encourage you to do so!

Other sources: 

Follow House of Sweden on Instagram at @swedeninusa for updates and announcements on what they’ve got going on.

Make a day of it:

You’re already down on the Georgetown waterfront! Take a stroll and enjoy watching boats trundle up the Potomac. There were a ton of people out and about enjoying the sunshine when we were down there- it was a perfect spring day in DC.


Light Yards at The Yards Park

Where: 355 Water St SE, Washington, DC
When: February 27-28 and March 5-6

Hi friends! Winter is so close to being over- we’ve got less than a month until we are at least, according to the calendar, if not strictly the weather, in the realm of spring. Daylight Saving Spring Forward is coming and basically, it’s only up from here. We’re in spitting distance of warm weather, evening light, and the opportunity to GET BACK OUTSIDE and break free of this mole-like existence we’ve been living the last little while.

This weekend we headed down to The Yards Park in southwest DC to take a peek at the current Light Yards pop-up art installation. Light Yards is a temporary display of light-up installations that will be at The Yards Park for just two weeks this month. Already up are Point Cloud and Cube, which are constructions made up of white illuminated cubes, but last night was the first night that artist Amanda Parer’s giant bunnies would be up and glowing. I offhandedly mentioned to my kids in the morning that that night we would go see some giant bunnies and then every 3.7 minutes for the rest of the day my 2 year old told me, “I’m going to see the giant bunnies. Where are the giant bunnies? I want to see the giant bunnies.”

We arrived just after dark and came upon what is going to be the next most-Instagrammed art installation in DC now that everybody’s been to the Renwick Gallery- a field full of glowing blow-up bunnies. There were many people there with real cameras hanging around their necks and one guy even had a mini tripod set up with a camera on the ground at the entrance to the bridge so there’s definitely going to be some highly curated shots going around, but because I’m me, you’re getting iPhone snaps edited in Afterlight on my phone. Lots of “IRL Instagram” shenanigans were going on- adults climbing on a glowing cube structure trying to look playful and artsy, striking just the right post for their silhouette shot, people jumping in front of giant bunnies 10x in a row for that perfect picture. Very entertaining. Got to see exactly how the sausage is made.


The name of this installation is Intrude and the message behind the piece is an interesting one. Amanda Parer describes rabbits as “fairytale animals from our childhood- a furry innocence frolicking through idyllic fields.” Yet they also represent ecological destruction as they are pests who wreak havoc on natural habitats and environments in Parer’s native Australia. According to Parer, their size (5×7 m) represents the scale of the mess they create and the “elephant in the room” nature of their existence.


But awwwwww. They’re so cute!


And only from certain angles do they look like our new bunny overlords who promise a peaceful but firm domination of our world. “The time of man has come and gone. Now comes the age of Bunny.”


My kids loved everything about Intrudeand the Light Yards set-up as a whole. The canal and bridge are lit up and there’s an artificial waterfall with a walkway behind it so you can stand behind the water and feel like you’re in a grotto.




Light Yards also has a giant Lite-Brite display, and live music/DJs for entertainment. Many kids had glow-in-the-dark sticks and necklaces and combined with a wide riverside walkway and a DJ, they pretty much acted like they were at MTV Spring Break circa 1997. Mine were dancing their faces off. Today’s 65 degree weather will make for a perfect trip down to check it out. If you can’t make it on a Sunday night, don’t miss it next Saturday and Sunday because after that the bunnies move on to assert their new dominion over the people of Portugal and Hong Kong.

Handy tips:

The Yards Park is accessible by Metro; the closest stop is Navy Yards. There’s limited on-site parking at The Yards Park if you’re driving. Light Yards is free, but there is food for sale and several nearby restaurants if you get hungry while you’re down there.


Just a mile or so away is Blind Whino’s “graffiti church” – the former Friendship Baptist Church which now serves as a space for artist workshops and exhibitions. It’s fully painted (the work of artist Hense) and pretty glorious in daylight, but its darkened facade at nighttime lends it a completely different aspect- a little more sinister and foreboding. Scoot over to 700 Delaware Ave SW and check it out while you’re nearby:



Renwick Gallery: WONDER Exhibition

Where: 1700 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC
When: Open daily, 10 am-5 pm (admission is free)

In countless books that I own, page upon page features a corner folded down on itself. These corners represent awe. They are the marker of a sentence, passage, paragraph that is so well written my mind is momentarily silenced. A folded down corner indicates that while I was reading, some use of language was so beautiful, so truthful, so full of imagery or import that I felt compelled to honor it in some way. I very likely read it over again several times, pulling whatever message it contained into myself where it could nestle among the other beautiful things I have seen, heard, smelled, touched in my lifetime. And then I folded down the corner so that in years to come, I could return to it again in moments when I need to come in contact with beauty.

This feeling of admiring awe is deeply imbued throughout the entire WONDER exhibition currently on display at the Renwick Gallery. I would fold down every single corner of every page if WONDER were a book. I would buy copies for all my friends and distribute them lavishly and freely. Although it was on my to-do list, I never got around to visiting the installation-du-jour from this past summer, Beach at the National Building Museum. It looked cute and fun, but ultimately I wasn’t overly upset to have missed it. WONDER hasn’t received nearly the same amount of coverage as Beach but oh my gosh. If you don’t see it (YOU MUST SEE IT) you will have lost out. It is special. It filled me with envy. Oh to imagine the world the way these artists did. To be crowned with the ability to envision these things and the ability to create them out of thin air. To be able to make people lie on the floor of a public building because they yearn to fully experience what you intended them to experience.

We went through the exhibit twice, unwilling to let it go. I will probably go back at least one more time before the exhibition begins closing in May 2016. Please go. Take yourself. Take your children. Take anyone you know. You can invite me, I’ll come.

Open again after two years of renovations, the stately and regal Renwick Gallery is the perfect home for the WONDER exhibition. There are nine displays, and each display gets its own room- both for size considerations (the displays are huge) and so that each exhibit stands alone, separate and apart from the other exhibits, which allows visitors to fully absorb them and take them in without distraction.


What I found so stunning about the WONDER exhibition was how each exhibit was unique and unlike any other exhibit in the gallery, and yet somehow the whole collection just fits together. No one installation looks like any other; each room is completely different, each creation has its own mood and feel, but the sum total is as if the whole thing is of a piece. I’m no good at art or maybe I could explain it better. I wish I could.



Nature appears to be the common thread that ties each room together- whether the pieces represent something in nature (as with the white mountains above, made with stacked index cards) or are literally built from nature, as with the display above, which was made using saplings. Represented are light, volume, waves, trees, bugs- and in the middle of it all, humans, fully interacting with each exhibit. “Hey,” you realize. “Hey. I’m part of this system, too.” I can’t recall another exhibition that I’ve seen that makes you feel as though you’re a vital component in the whole setup the way WONDER does. You are not merely at the exhibition. You are a part of it.

More than any other art installation or exhibition I can remember, WONDER inspires awe and conversation. Here is no quiet contemplation or rumination. All around me was discussion of what each piece meant, which piece was preferred. Upon entering one room I heard a woman say to her companion, “This entrance is much more impressive than coming in from the other side.” Everyone meandered and poked, trying to find the most interesting viewpoint, a new way of looking at each sculpture. My children and I discussed which were our favorites and why. I have pretty much never had this much fun in an art gallery is what I’m saying.



In the Grand Salon upstairs was the sculpture that absolutely rocked me- 1.8 by Janet Echelman.


Echelman’s sculpture is a visual representation of the shock waves that that tore across the Pacific Ocean in the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand and South Asia. And here what was violent and brutal and ugly becomes ethereal and beautiful. The lights change color every so often, morphing the experience each time you look. Destruction at the hands of Janet Echelman becomes delicate, gliding through the universe on gossamer.




Looming through a doorway in the Grand Salon is John Grade’s Middle Fork, a cedar replica made from the cast of a 150-year-old hemlock tree.


In WONDER, you approach a tree as never before- from the very bottom.


One of the most magical things about the WONDER exhibition is how your sense of your own scale adjusts with each display. In Untitled and Shindig, you feel dwarfed by monoliths; enveloped. In Middle Fork, you feel small next this mighty felled tree. In the next room, which features Maya Lin’s Folding the Chesapeake, you suddenly feel transformed into something much larger. The marbled representation of the Chesapeake Bay spilling across the floor and up the walls gives the illusion of viewing the bay from a God-like perspective. You are no longer within or below- you loom above.


When we had made our way through all the exhibits on the top floor, we repeated the circuit once more, popping back into the Grand Salon and finally, despite my initial hesitations (“This is gross, no, we aren’t lying on the floor”), acquiescing to the demands of 1.8… and lying on the floor, to go underwater, so to speak. To become even smaller. To be subsumed.


I can’t speak for everyone else in the Grand Salon, sprawled on the floor with me or otherwise. Perhaps not everyone felt at that moment the deep, throbbing appreciation and yes, envy, that I did. That is the point of art, right? To touch something within you? All I know is that lying on the floor of the Renwick Gallery’s Grand Salon, immersed in 1.8, I felt that same cognizant stillness that comes when I fold down the corner of a page of a good book. I wish I did this. I wish I could do this. What a gift to be able to do this. I want to remember this. 

I can’t say enough how essential I consider a visit to WONDER Exhibition to be. It is magnificent in its scope, in what it represents, in what it stirs within. I went through twice and in writing this post, have decided a third go-round is necessary. It is a feast for the eyes, a joy for the heart, a puzzle for the brain; it is tactile without ever allowing itself to be touched, and illuminating without ever letting itself be fully known. I’m not going to say it. I won’t do it. Okay, I’m gonna do it.

It’s wondrous.


We showed up at 11 am and the gallery was crowded, but not unbearably so. However, when we left the gallery around noon, the line to get in (which did not exist when we arrived) had wrapped around the building and was halfway down to the White House, a block away. If you’re planning to visit on a weekend or a weekday during Christmas break, be prepared to arrive early, or to wait in a line.