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Exploratorium presents ExtraOrdinary!, a summer show transforming everyday stuff into incredible art

Exploratorium presents ExtraOrdinary!, a summer show transforming everyday stuff into incredible art

New exhibition features stunning installations, pop-up workshops, DIY building and artmaking activities

A person in a pink hooded coat standing next to a large statue of a muscular figure with black, spiky hair.
Artist Ekow Nimako built his mythological Kweku Ananse creation from LEGOⓇ pieces.
Credit: Samuel Engelking


SAN FRANCISCO (May 7, 2024) – This summer, the Exploratorium invites you to unleash your inner scientist-artist at ExtraOrdinary!, a new exhibition featuring incredible art made from everyday objects. Get inspired as nine artists transform ordinary items like shoes, wooden blocks, LEGO pieces, cardboard, lightbulbs, and miles of string into imaginative and playful installations. Explore "exhiblets" – mini-Exploratorium exhibits – crafted in partnership with our local Community Science Workshops, and try your hand at building your own creations. ExtraOrdinary! opens June 13, 2024 and runs through September 8, 2024. 

"We’re thrilled to bring together a collection of diverse artists whose works highlight human ingenuity and encourage visitors to imagine the wondrous worlds that can be created from the mundane objects in our everyday lives," said Allison Roach, Project Director, Temporary Exhibitions. "We hope visitors of all ages will be inspired to tinker and play and build their own extraordinary creations in our pop-up workshops, and at home by following our handy online “exhiblet” instructions!"

Presented in English, Spanish, and Traditional Chinese, ExtraOrdinary! labels guide visitors on a journey through fantastical spaces, artworks, and experiences. Among the interactive installations to enjoy: 

  • CLOUD by Alberta artists Caitlin r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett invites you to play with others as “puppeteers,” pulling the dangling chains to turn lights on and off and animate the electrical cloud of energy efficient LED lightbulbs and burnt-out lightbulbs collected from different locations the installation has visited. 
  • Bamboo Weaving Star by Slow Art Collective features large scale looms that position visitors as the artists, experimenting side-by-side with any and all weaving techniques to create an ever-changing, summer-long collaborative art and music installation.
A collection of surreal and abstract images, including a cloud formation with rain, a robotic sculpture, and a wall with scattered objects.
Clockwise from top left: CLOUD by Caitlin r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett; Masks by Willie Cole; 405 prepared dc motors, cotton balls, cardboard boxes 46x46x46 cm by Zimoun; Building Blocks by Kumi Yamashita.


Meanwhile, LEGO pieces, shoes, saxophones, and wooden blocks form captivating installations that invite reflection:

  • In Building Black Mythos: DIVINITIES, Ghanian-Canadian artist Ekow Nimako transforms LEGO pieces into an exploration of African mythology. A trickster god from the Akan people of Ghana, named Kweku Ananse, is accompanied by some imaginary creatures: a dragon-cat, called a Kadeesa, that guards two angelic infant messengers for the gods.
  • Just as enchanting are a pair of installations by New Jersey artist Willie Cole. In Masks, Cole has sculpted startingly expressive masks from thrifted women’s shoes. Each one has a soul, Cole says – and sole. In Yardbird, saxophones take flight as larger-than-life birds, inspired by jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, nicknamed “Bird,” who wrote a song called “Ornithology.” 
  • In Building Blocks, Japanese artist Kumi Yamashita uses simple wood blocks arranged near a single source of light to create unexpected shadows. While some miss the shadows while looking at the blocks, that’s like life, Yamashita says of what people notice – and don’t.

Visitors can also immersive themselves in these profound large-scale installations:

  • In the Black Box, listen to the symphony of Swiss artist Zimoun’s roomful of cardboard boxes – each outfitted with a salvaged small motor that swings a cotton ball onto the box. All materials for the sound sculpture, titled "405 prepared dc motors, cotton balls, cardboard boxes 46x46x46 cm,"  are recycled or locally-sourced and will be re-used after the exhibition. 
  • Above Gallery 3, artist HOTTEA ties tens of thousands of knots to create Analog Technicolor, an immense yarn installation inspired by the energy of his grandmother’s spirit and the concepts of modern color theory.

And the ExtraOrdinary! experience doesn’t stop there. The Exploratorium is activating Pop-Up Workshops featuring DIY building and art making activities for all ages with our Explainers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and 6:30-9:30 p.m on Thursday nights. 

In collaboration with local Community Science Workshops, the Exploratorium also co-created delightful "exhiblets" – mini-Exploratorium exhibits built from low-cost materials – that visitors can tinker with. Accompanied by take home learning exercises to extend the learning experience, this collaboration was made possible with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 

Throughout the summer, the Exploratorium will also present adult and family-friendly programs to enhance your ExtraOrdinary! experience with themed After Dark programs on June 13 and July 18 and extra-special weekend programs on June 14-15 and July 20-21. 


About the Exploratorium

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The Exploratorium is a portal to the astonishing scientific phenomena that animate our world and shape our actions. We create extraordinary learning experiences that ignite curiosity, upend perceptions, and inspire brave leaps forward. Since 1969, the Exploratorium’s museum in San Francisco has been home to a renowned collection of exhibits that draw together science, art, and human perception, and that have changed the way science is taught. Our award-winning programs provide a forum for the public to engage with artists, scientists, policymakers, educators, and tinkerers to explore the world around them. We celebrate diversity of thought, inspired investigation, and collaboration across all boundaries.

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