London Design Biennale 2016

The London Design Biennale was a festival held at Somerset House in September, featuring works from 37 countries from across the world, responding to the theme of 'Utopia by Design.' This is the first year this event has taken place and it was a part of Somerset House's season of 'Utopia' that has been going on throughout the year with various different events. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the exhibition twice, discovering parts I had overlooked the first time on my second visit (I didn't realise it was so big!). There were many impressive installations but I will be discussing my top 10 below (in no particular order).

1. Turkey, 'The Wish Machine'

Administering Body: Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV)

Design Team: Seyhan Özdemir, Sefer Çağlar, Çağla Gürbay, Zeynep Akten (Autoban); Paul McMillen, Zehra Uçar,Koray Malhan (curatorial advisors); Umut Südüak (graphic design)

Supporting Bodies: Turkishceramics (sponsor); TEKNO/BARRISOL (production support); Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism

As I was entering the exhibition I noticed mysterious tubes going along the walls, which appeared to be carrying some sort of object. I followed them to Turkey's section of the exhibition called 'The Wish Machine.' Visitors were able to write wishes and put them through the machine where they could see their message whiz through this hexagonal structure before making its way through the rest of the west wing of the exhibition. I like the personal approach this piece took to the idea of utopia as it relied on the hopes and dreams of individuals rather then a defined ideology.

2. Saudi Arabia, 'Water Machine'

Administering Body: Saudi Design Week
Design Team: Basma Bouzo, Noura Bouzo
Curators: Basma Bouzo, Noura Bouzo
Supporting Bodies: Alf Khair; Baraboux; Saudi British Society; Oasis Magazine

Saudi Arabia's piece consisted of a gumball machine filled with blue marbles representing drops of water. Printed on them was text reading 'What if this was the last drop?' This piece was quite thoughtful as it is relevant to the water crisis in Saudi Arabia. Due to it's desert climate, they have to use desalination plants to produce fresh water from the sea. We were encouraged to take a drop of water away with us which I think was effective in emphasising how finite the world's supply of clean drinking water is.

3. Austria, LeveL

Administering Body: Saudi Design Week
Design Team: Basma Bouzo, Noura Bouzo
Curators: Basma Bouzo, Noura Bouzo
Supporting Bodies: Alf Khair; Baraboux; Saudi British Society; Oasis Magazine

Austria's piece was rather mesmerising. It was a dark room filled with a sculpture of light that flickered and moved gradually in response to the movement of visitors. I think that perhaps this piece symbolises the fragility of utopian ideologies - they appear to be beautiful and ideal in theory but can easily be shaken and have flaws in practice.

4. India, Chakraview

Administering Body: India Design Forum (IDF)
Designer: Sumant Jayakrishnan
Curator: Rajshree Pathy (Founder, IDF)
Supporting Bodies: Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Govt of India; Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion – DIPP; Confederation of Indian Industry – CII; Aditya Birla Group

India's piece featured a juxtaposition of both traditional and futuristic design. The contrast between the rich colours of the fabric and hand painted signs with the cold, stark, silver mirrors perhaps represents the necessity of both traditional values and new ideas in order to maintain a progressive society. In the blue lit room, there was an accompanying short film.

5. Repubulic of Korea, Peach Blossom

Administering Body: Korean Institute of Design Promotion (KIDP)
Design Team: Austin S. Lee, Goo-Ryong Kang, Jaewon Seok, Sungjoon Steve Won, Kiheon Shin, Jeeyeon Ha, Jae-Hyouk Sung
Curator: Jae-Hyouk Sung

South Korea's piece was particularly interesting as you could interact with it by inputting your answer to 'What is your utopia?', which would cause the appearance of the screen to adapt. I like the collaborative approach they took to the theme of utopia - allowing the audience to become a part of the piece. The title, 'Peach Blossom' is derived from a painting by Ahn Gyeon titled, 'Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land.'  which features an idyllic landscape. This interactive map allows visitors to help shape their own ideal world.

6. Taiwan, Eatopia

 Administering Bodies: Chinese Institute of Urban Design, Taiwan; cxcity
Design Team: Rain Wu, Shikai Tseng, Chung-Ho Tsai, Lydia Chang
Curators: Rain Wu, Shikai Tseng
Supporting Bodies:
 Ministry of Culture, Taiwan; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Taiwan; Taipei City Government Cultural Division; World Design Capital Taipei 2016; RC Culture and Arts Foundation; Pasadena International Group; Stone & Resource Industry R&D Centre; Hoomia; Layer One Co. Ltd.; Milk Tea & Pearl
As the name suggests, Taiwan's entry was to do with food and how it helps to enrich bonds in a society. Unfortunately we could not try the delicious looking food, but a curator was present to explain what the different aspects of the meal symbolised, and how they represented various aspects of Taiwanese culture. I really liked the set design of the room, the neon lighting created a warm feel amongst the trees.

7. South Africa, Otium and Acedia

Administering Body: Southern Guild
Designer: Porky Hefer
Curators: Trevyn McGowan, Julian McGowan

South Africa's installation was very playful, featuring hammocks fashioned in the shapes of various animals. (Unfortunately there were signs in them saying not to go inside but it was very tempting.) The animals chosen are usually seen as quite scary, such as a piranha, but here they are depicted in a rather innocent and fun way. Perhaps this represents a utopia where the dangers of the past are left behind for a new and brighter future.

8. Cuba, Parawifi

Administering Body Foundation Caguayo
Design Team Luis Ramirez, Michel Aguilar
Curators: Luis Ramirez, Michel Aguilar
Supporting Body: Design and Printing TOKAO

Cuba's piece was quite interesting as it was relevant to the current situation regarding wifi. Many wifi hotspots in Cuba require people to gather up at centralised locations, and stand or sit on street curbs, which can often be quite uncomfortable. This design was a proposal to create communal pods that allow people use the internet comfortably. There was an accompanying short film that went into great depth about the idea and it seems like it could be very useful if put into practice in the future.

9. Spain, VRPolis, Diving Into The Future

Administering Body: Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport
Design Team: Dimeloami Productions, María Levene
Curator: Maite Cantón
Supporting Bodies:
 Viesgo; Santander City Hall; Official College of Cantabrian Architects (COACAN); inMediaStudio; experience powered by HTC VIVE

Spain's installation was a beautiful tunnel made of intricately woven multi-coloured thread. In the next room, you could experience a short virtual reality film that depicted a futuristic, smart, and sustainable city. You could interact with and explore the various features. It showed how virtual reality could be an exciting tool for architects and engineers to simulate, design, and build the cities of the future.

10. Japan, A Journey Around The Neighbourhood Globe

Administering Body: The Japan Foundation
Design Team: Yasuhiro Suzuki (Artist); Noriko Kawakami (Curatorial Advisor); Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Motomi Kawakami, Kozo Fujimoto, Noriko Kawakami (Advisory Committee)
Supporting Bodies: WOW inc.; Mediaturge Inc.; ROCKET Project (Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo)

Although this post was in no particular order, I have left my favourite for last. The artist took simple objects but made them seem rather whimsical. I especially liked the tree stump filled with water that was dripping from above. The ripples of the water resembled the rings of a tree. I also liked the inflatable figure hanging from the ceiling and I feel the transparency helped to add a dream-like feel. Visitors were encouraged to write what utopia means to them in the beautiful guestbook. Reading through all the different responses was interesting as I got an insight into various different versions of utopia.

The next London Design Biennale won't be until 2018. I know I'll definitely go again, and I recommend that you do too.

Design credits taken from londondesignbiennale.com/participants
Pictures taken by me

Latest Instagrams

© AMINA LOLA. Design by Fearne.