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Questioning Utopia

Posted on: 24 Sep 2016

The first ever London Design Biennale is partnering with LDF to offer a carefully curated journey centred around the concept of ‘Utopia’. 

Located at Somerset House, the first ever London Design Biennale is partnering with LDF this year to offer a carefully curated journey centred around the concept of ‘Utopia’, specifically inspired by the 500th anniversary of Thomas More’s, Utopia. Contributors and visitors are asked to consider what a utopian world might mean to them and question the proposed ideas that they are challenged with. Utopia by Design provokes thoughts surrounding social equality, sustainability, political conflict, migration and so much more, bound together by 37 participating countries.

When visiting the London Design Biennale, Germany's response immediately resonated with my personal view of Utopia as a concept. Provocatively titled Utopia Means Elsewhere, visitors enter one of two exhibition rooms; one bright white, the other darkened black. Thrown into an initial painfully white and almost empty space, I am faced with a striking serif quote, sat within a large white easel, by John Malkovich. A section of the quote reads, ‘We dream that someone has to be there, at a different place in time and space’. The quote is so incredibly powerful and prominent, I proceed to turn away from it to where an intriguing painting above a fireplace is revealed. The painting captures the Earth’s natural elements fighting with one another, while humans seem to happily sit in between the two. Water and fire battle together, while the moon is calmly humming a bright light through the clouded night sky. At this moment, questions of Utopia are whirling around in my head; despite all we strive to do on Earth, will the natural elements always over-power any intelligent life form? Is technology merely a passing phenomenon that will ultimately always be out-ridden by nature?

As I enter through a heavy curtain into a darkened room, I see a large pixelated screen, playing a repetitive motion-graphic of a burning fire. Accompanied by an atmospheric audio of cracking wood and moving objects. Four chairs are carefully placed in front of the moving fire, so I decide to sit and watch the pixelated flames. The oranges and whites gradually start to merge together, the pixels disappear and become non-existent; un-important. The flames billow into nothingness, dancing away to a saturation point of ultimate oblivion. I’m reminded of calm nights, sitting around a campfire, discussing and contemplating life on Earth and naturally dreaming of a better world.  

Similarly, located further along in the exhibition appears a dominating structure, representing Turkey, delicately titled The Wish Machine. The concept sees visitors writing notes of hope; essentially lone wishes on a sheet of white paper. The wish is then entered into the machine, which is impressively made out of transparent hexagonal tubes. The room feels so uniquely futuristic, I become persuaded by the idea of a posted wish genuinely coming true if I somehow decide to take part. The depth of the hexagonal structure reminds me of rippling water, the idea of travel and time eloquently passing by. The machine echoes a hum of oxygen suction, almost making me feel as if i’m entering a soon-to-be departing space craft, taking off to a different planet; a planet of possibility and hope, perhaps? As I take in the atmosphere I watch visitors entering the room with radiant smiles; revelling at the idea of sending a wish off into the unknown atmosphere. Following the posting of a wish, I hear a young lady ask the exhibition attendant where the wish ends up. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite hear the answer. The amount of hope projected from such a humble object absolutely has to be applauded in terms of interactivity and concept. A must see if you are visiting.

The London Design Biennale collectively demonstrates an incredibly insightful conversation between all of the participating countries. Notions of hope, despair, strength and solidarity beautifully weaves all of them together, ultimately uniting one another in the form of collaboration within design. The very much welcomed questioning of Utopia has set the first London Design Biennale off to a spectacular start.

The London Design Biennale is located at Somerset House until 27th September.   

Written by Kerry Squires
Edited by Catherine Mwase


Festival's Feet on the Street
Partner information

Over nine days in September, the London Design Festival features over 400 events which take place across London, showcasing the city's pivotal role in global design.

The centerpeices of the Festival are our commissions, the Landmark Projects created with the help of our generous supporters. The London Design Festival 2016 has over 80 Volunteers from across the globe who will greatly impact on the Festival experience for all who visit.

Festival's Feet on the Street 2016, features articles posted by the volunteer team. With unique, first-hand insights into events, seminars, workshops and installations across the capital, this group of volunteers generously bring their diverse perspectives to the Festival and will uncover unique discoveries from Design Destinations, Districts and beyond.

Enjoy this series of news articles that will cover events across London's best-loved public spaces including the Festival hub at the Victoria and Albert Museum, The inaugural London Design Biennale at Somerset House, and many more.