Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby’s installation ‘Forecast’ by U.K.
The inaugural London Design Biennale which coincided with The London Design Festival took place at Somerset House (7 – 27 September) with over 30 countries and territories participating. Curated by the leading museums and design organisations in the world, the newly commissioned installations explored the theme ‘Utopia by design’, inspired by Thomas More’s famous book/texts, and marking the 500th anniversary of its publication.
Left: Helidon Xhixha’s ‘Bliss’ by Albania, which won the Public medal
A few weeks before the opening, I was invited to attend the Eatopia food tasting and performance hosted by the Taiwan Pavilion, yet regrettably, due to my trip to the US, I was unable to attend the event.
Admittedly, I was quite skeptical about another design event during the design festival initially, but I was curious at the same time. Eventually, my curiosity prevailed over my skepticism, and I spent an afternoon wandering around the vast exhibition area – almost the entire building – and pondering over the meaning of ‘utopia’ in design today.
Top left: ‘UN/BIASED’ by Portugal; Top middle: ‘Water machine’ by Saudi Arabia; Top right: ‘Design Diorama: The Archive as a Utopic Environment’ by The Netherlands; Bottom: Freedome by Indonesia
Although the show exceeded my expectations, I was relatively disappointed by some exhibitors’ lack of endeavour and their tenuous link with the theme. For me, the weakest pavilions were U.K. ( there was no pavilion – only an outdoor ‘art’ installation), U.S.A., Sweden, Australia, and Korea; while my favourites were Russia, Turkey, Japan, and France.
Top & 2nd row left: Autoban’s ‘The wish machine’ by Turkey; Top, 2nd row right & bottom: Yasuhiro Suzuki’s ‘A Journey Around the Neighbourhood Globe’ by Japan
Designed by Istanbul-based multi-disciplinary practice Autoban, ‘The Wish Machine’ is a fun contemporary version of the ‘wish tree’. Messages written on note paper sealed in capsules are fed into the machine and then carried through a tunnel of transparent pneumatic tubes and around the West Wing of Somerset House, before being deposited into the unknown. Concept aside, the transparent machine itself is a fascinating design, and it certainly created some buzz when it was at work.
Japanese designer, Yasuhiro Suzuki‘s ‘A Journey Around the Neighbourhood Globe’ consisted of designs, videos, animations and drawings inspired by everyday objects like zipper, apple and spoons. The designer’s aim was to encourage visitors to look and question the way we view the world around us and perceive everyday life.
Benjamin Loyauté’s moving documentary film, ‘The Astounding Eyes of Syria’ addresses the refugee crisis, which is an ongoing issue that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon. The designer also created a vending machine dispersing pink candy sweets with proceeds from each pack going to help displaced Syrian families.
The show’s well-deserved Utopia medal winner was Russia’s ‘Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design’. The rediscovered archive, told the story of the forgotten projects created at the All-Union Soviet Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE) and Soviet Design Studios (SHKB) between the 1960s and 1980s. The ‘utopian’ visions of the future imagined by designers in the Soviet Union were never realised, but some are still inspirational even in today’s standard.
Top row: Porky Hefer’s ‘Otium and Acedia’ by South Africa; ‘White flag’ by Italy; 2nd left: ‘Eatopia’ by Taiwan; 2nd right: ‘Cadavre Exquis: an Anatomy of Utopia’ by Poland; Bottom: Fernando Romero’s ‘Border City’ by Mexico
The main issue with this show was inconsistency, due to some exhibitors’ insubstantial effort and uninspiring answer to the brief. The show also made me question the blurry line between art and design today… clearly some installations should have been classified as art rather than design, so why were they submitted and presented in a design show? Although there were some interesting and thought-provoking work, the show’s overall curation was rather slacked, and this was a let-down for me.