The inaugural London Design Biennale has taken over the entirety of Somerset House to explore the role of design in our collective futures. Guided by the topic of Utopia by Design, designers, innovators and cultural bodies from 35 participating nations are presenting newly commissioned works in contemporary design, design-led innovation, creativity and research. The UK is being represented by London-based design duo Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, with an installation curated by the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Biennale runs until 27 September with sustainability, migration, pollution, water and social equality just some of the issues being explored.
At its core, the Biennale represents an enlightened celebration of design, grown from an authentic fascination with tangible creativity. Until now, nowhere has this blind faith in technology been celebrated more than at the World Fairs of old. Ever since the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, the fairs have been seen as a catalyst for international cooperation and peace. Although today’s World Fairs may have lost their notoriety (and more sadly, their flocks of hot air balloons), this Biennale harks back to the élan of the Great Exhibition. Loudly.
We were astounded by the forward-thinking contributors as we wandered around the giant exhibition. There was nothing that didn’t catch our eyes or capture our imaginations; every contributor had a fascinating take on the brief. We won’t give everything away, but we’ll share what’s in store from a handful of countries:
A feat of technical artistry and craft, Vienna-based mischer’traxler’s installation is a balanced network of lightweight rods that relies on a finely tuned structure of mechanics, circuitry and bespoke hinges. At the end of each rod is an integrated LED housed within a hand-sewn paper shade. When the mobile is totally still, the lights are at their brightest, illuminating the room fully. As we entered and moved around the space, the drafts of air we created, either from moving around or simply breathing, made the rods tilt and spin, the LEDs dim, throwing the whole mobile off-balance. This delicate and ever changing sculpture muses on the precariousness of the utopian ideal.
To Salman Jawed, co-founder of Karachi-based design practice Coalesce Design Studio, utopia is “a place where strangers become friends.”As leader of the Pakistani design team, Jawed has succeeded to encourage such interactions in a playful installation that encourages us to meet, converse, and share ideas with open minds. Ultimately, they have designed a beautiful playroom for our inner child. A collaborative effort, the space reflects a design team made up of many disciplines, including architecture, furniture design, graphics and textiles. It features elements of tradition craft - sheesham wood objects, Latoo Stools (spinning tops), hand-drawn artworks, and screen prints using henna dyes.
For the Greeks, marble serves as a useful metaphor for the shifting social and cultural patterns caused by migration, and for the paradoxes, continuities and disruptions of utopia: “Imperfections, veins and natural flaws render marble a map with deltas, uneven terrain, and infinite routes.” In their installation, they have recreated a marble quarry Dionysus, north of Athens, and a cave within it. This is done through video projection, and in an adjacent room, a large sculpture designed by on.entropy is made of ‘pentelikon’ marble, from the same seam as that used for the construction of the Parthenon.
London Design Biennale; londondesignbiennale.com
Coalesce Design Studio; coalesce.pk