The Ljubljana Design Biennial, one of the oldest events of its kind in Europe, has unveiled the results of the preliminary phase of 3, 2, 1…TEST, a six-month-long collaborative process seeking to shape the possible future of design
The incredibly well preserved capital city of Slovenia offered rich soil for experimentation and freedom of constructive imagination, with more than 120 designers applying to the open call with the hope of being selected for this major, choral adventure.
Divided into eleven groups, each of them was tasked with investigating and tackling different macro-themes, such as affordable living, knowing food, public water public space, walking the city, hidden crafts, the fashion system, hacking households, nanotourism, engine blocks, observing space and designing life. The participants were led by international mentors such as the Austrian curator Tulga Beyerle, Rianne Makkink from Studio Makkink & Bey, chef Klemen Košir, the designer Aldo Bakker, and curator Judith Seng.
In late September we visited BIO 50 (as the Ljubljana event is called), and it clearly reflected the interdisciplinary approach of its 2014 director, Jan Boelen, one of the most visionary and knowledgeable thinkers on the international design scene. Boelen also serves as director of the Belgian institution Z33 in Hasselt, is the director of the master in social design course at the
Design Academy Eindhoven, and is the chairman of the Flemish Committee for Architecture and Design.
This year – its 24th edition – BIO 50 undertook an ambitious transformation, focusing more on the process than on the final product and taking into consideration the potentiality of all design in everyday life. The event essentially moved away from the format of a traditional industrial design exhibition to become a six-month collaborative process and experimentation, which exploded in innovative, sophisticated and site-related projects that were simply but beautifully installed in different venues of the city.
But, of course, there were also products on show. We appreciated, for example, the interesting panorama offered by the show titled The Biennial of (Industrial) Design over 50 Years at the Jakopič Gallery, curated by Cvetka Požar, which celebrated notable objects that had not only been on display during previous Ljubljana Biennales, but are part of the history of design worldwide. Among other product design productions was the Floating Lamp by Slovenian-born Natasha Dot Musevic, which was especially conceived for the ‘hacking households’ team, led by mentors Tilen Sepič and Jesse Howard. With it’s minimal appeal, Musevic has proposed something simple, yet entirely new. The shape of a balloon, but without any cables, her lamp introduces a moon-like structure to the home and adds the feeling of lightness into the space surrounding it. Once connected to the internet, it can be switched on with any smartphone or via any internet connection, turning computers and laptops into remote controls.
The 2014 edition revealed an innovative, almost holistic, approach to design. As seen in Slovenia, this discipline is an inclusive field that has the potential to embrace our entire life. It can be an engine for the future, a satisfying answer to practical needs, and an ongoing form of inquiry about the present.
To strengthen this peculiar view of design being able to embrace human life, Boelen and co-curators Cvetka Požar – an art historian and curator at the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) in Ljubljana – and Maja Vardjan – an architect by training and curator at both the MAO and Silent Revolutions: Contemporary Design in Slovenia – have titled the event’s catalogue Designing the Everyday Life, a pretty straightforward statement where, once
again, we appreciate fresh thoughts that provoke ways to analyse all that surrounds us.
These include different forms of dwellings (as in the nanoturism section), research into milk packaging, and an unusual investigation into eating rats. The group winner of the 2014 Best Collaboration Award was identified in nanoturism, for which the jury composed of designer and professor Saša J. Mächtig, superstar Konstatin Grcic and renowned design commentator Alice Rawsthorn, stated: “We were tremendously impressed by the quality, dynamism and originality of the projects in BIO 50, especially as they address so many important and contentious issues
facing contemporary design.
“We were tremendously impressed by the quality, dynamism, and originality of the projects in BIO 50, especially as they address so many important and contentious issues facing contemporary design”
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The Ljubljana Design Biennial is an intriguing experiment made of multidisciplinary agents, all engaged in a large-scale collaborative effort to devise potential abilities and promises for design. The research of today will go on to build a new tomorrow.
A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Rose Tinted issue #28, on page 104.