Butterflies of the Beautiful

biomimicry data visualisation performance weaving

From 17th to 23rd April 2023 artist Maria Varela will be in residence as part of the Temporary Home program for BASE Milano Design Week, with an installation that responds to the themes expressed by the acronym of I.D.E.A. – Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.

Maria Varela creates butterflies following the protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “The Artist of the Beautiful” (1844). Hawthorne’s story depicts the Artist’s battle against the Practical, bringing forward the nature of Art and its creation. Milan Design Week becomes the perfect time to revisit through a current perspective the battle of aesthetics and functionalism. Hawthorne ambiguously plays with the concept of the Cult of Domesticity in the story, a term used to describe new ideas of femininity. Although all women were supposed to emulate this ideal of femininity, black, working class, and immigrant women were at the time (19th century) excluded from the definition.


Moreover, it’s considered the first story to contain a robotic insect. Discussing the combination of Art and Technology in different time periods, the work juxtaposes the fantasy of a mechanical butterfly in the past and a machine-learning model to generate a butterfly today.

Maria Varela creates AI-generated butterfly wings and their color composition becomes the visualization of the gender equality data reports by UN Women. During the days of the residency and the exhibition, an improvised loom will be set up and the artist will weave on the spot, demonstrating in real time the methodology of making butterfly wings.

The allegory of the continuous struggle to create a perfect butterfly (the Beautiful) becomes the continuous battle for gender equality in its full potential.

The project is realized in collaboration with Stathis Mitropoulos and The Sustainable Sequin Company.
Commissioned by Onassis Stegi and the British Council as part of the program Circular Cultures.

  • exhibition

    BASE Milano Design Week

  • production

    Onassis Stegi , British Council

  • venue

    Casa Base

  • year