Utopia by Design
by Festival's Feet on the Street
The first London Design Biennale comes to Somerset House from 5-27 September, exploring the theme of how design can be used to realise the ambition of creating utopian societies around the world.
37 countries and territories from six continents contributed ideas, artworks, installations and design solutions to the Biennale, curated by globally leading museums and institutions including Cooper Hewitt and the Smithsonian Design Museum (USA), India Design Forum, Moscow Design Museum (Russia) and the UK’s own Victoria and Albert Museum. The exhibition brings together the work of scientists, architects, sociologists, artists and designers in a cultural melting pot, all asking the question if, how and when utopia can be achieved in today’s society based on Thomas More’s influential 16th century work.
Visitors are able to experience culinary delights (Taiwan’s Eatopia, in a nod to the country’s diverse cultural heritage and community ideal of sharing meals), virtual reality (Spain’s imagining of modern urban living in VRPolis, Diving into the Future), interactive installations (USA’s The Immersion Room, allowing participants to design their own digital wallpapers in real time) and even street life in downtown Beirut as part of Mezzing in Lebanon, with its falafel stalls, street signs, barber shop and lounge cinema representing an everyday utopia for its inhabitants.
Much of the Biennale touches on current issues facing the world today such as pollution, sustainability, political uncertainty, access to clean water and the ongoing migrant crisis. Albania’s Bliss, from artist Helidon Xhixha, uses reflective surfaces in stainless steel columns and benches to encourage self-reflection and highlight the need for a cohesive society amidst the refugee crisis. Turkey’s contribution, The Wish Machine, takes messages from visitors on a journey through a set of clear tubes before dropping them into ‘the unknown’ - representing the hopes and dreams of many who wish to find their own utopia in far-off places.
The concept of dystopia, as the natural opposite of utopia, is also considered in a number of exhibits: LeveL by Austria’s mischer’traxler is a large light mobile consisting of LED lights that moves and dims when it detects movement, based on the idea of a fragile utopia that swings off-balance at the slightest disruption.
A particular highlight is the Kubrickian The Counterculture Room, a take on Chile’s real-life utopian project from a 1970s socialist government wishing to provide the state with a ‘cybernetic spine’ - an electronic central hub that would give impartial information to allow ministers to make informed decisions for the good of society.
The Biennale also features a programme of daily talks from the curators and designers behind the installations on show which are not to be missed. Tickets to the London Design Biennale are £15/£10 concessions and can be bought via Ticketmaster.
Written by Katherine Allen
Edited by Catherine Mwase