Popping into Creativity: Maria Nielsen’s Bubble Wrap Universe

On a rainy Milanese day, the nostalgic pop of bubble wrap echoes as Maria Walter Nielsen, Copenhagen-born designer and lecturer, unveiled her latest exhibition, PLURI – The Multifaceted Universe of Bubble Wrap. The project, infused with whimsy and personal history, transforms mundane packaging material into a medium for artistic exploration, challenging what is ordinary versus perceived value.

Maria Walter Nielsen’s relationship with bubble wrap is deeply personal, rooted in the universal childhood delight of popping its bubbles.

“The memory of joy that this material, typically meant for packaging, brings is profound,” she reflects during our conversation, her voice animated with vivid recollection. “It transcends language and culture; it’s about the emotion and the tactile experience.”

Nielsen’s approach examines the aesthetics of this plastic medium with the precision of a craftsperson and the vision of an artist. “It’s not just the textural quality,” she explains, referring to her intricate process of replicating bubble wrap patterns on diverse surfaces, from wood sourced in Tuscany to luxurious fabrics.

“It’s about elevating it, creating a visual and auditory narrative that reimagines ‘waste’.”

Nielsen’s designs speak a language, as she beautifully encapsulates the very sound of popping bubble wrap, translating them into tactile logos, akin to a universal language of touch and sound. Among the most captivating pieces include the artist’s auditory and visual exploration of the bubble wrap’s most identifiable characteristic: the pop.

These pieces spell out in letters the different nuances of the ‘bubble pop’ as interpreted by cultures of different languages; they capture a sensation, a shared experience that transcends language, culture, and age. Every visitor, regardless of their background, can immediately connect with that simple, satisfying snap.

In a particularly immersive twist, the exhibition space itself becomes a testament to Nielsen’s vision, with surfaces blanketed in bubble wrap, transforming the room into a tactile canvas.

Touch and Feel Exhibition

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the enveloping installation, the act of pressing, popping, or simply touching the bubble wrap creates a multi-sensory experience that blurs the line between observer and participant. The ambient pops contribute to an engagement in the space, a literal and figurative breaking of the traditional ‘quiet gallery’ atmosphere. “It’s about the satisfaction,” says Nielsen, smiling. “Everyone can connect with the act of popping bubble wrap. It’s a shared, almost intimate act that I wanted to celebrate.”

Sustainability is subtly woven into her work. Nielsen, with a history of upcycling in her family, speaks passionately about reusing materials. Scraps, remnants, and even the bubble wrap itself are collected over the years, embodying her commitment to environmental responsibility. “I see beauty and potential in what others discard,” she shares.

As our conversation meanders, it’s clear Nielsen’s multifaceted career informs her artistry.

She reflects on her journey, noting how her Danish roots and Milan’s vibrant design scene shape her work.

“It’s a fusion, really. I carry my past, my learnings from my mother and grandmother, into my present,” she explains. This blend is particularly poignant in PLURI, a project that, at its core, is as much an exploration of self as it is of material.

Nielsen’s role as an educator also bleeds into her identity as an artist. Though she’s built a career designing for others, this exhibition feels different. “It’s me expressing myself without limits,” she admits, a sense of liberation in her tone. “There’s a genuine piece of me in each work, my narrative.”

Before we part, I ask Nielsen about her hopes for her visitors. Her response is simple yet profound: “Be happy. I want them to enter my bubble-wrap universe and leave with a smile. Especially now, more than ever, we need the joy, colour, and peace it brings.”