Taking over the entirety of Somerset House for the majority of September, the London Design Biennale is back with a bang for its second edition, focusing on the theme of Emotional States. Over 40 countries, cities and territories are taking part this year, each one responding in their own unique way to the task at hand. Six continents are exhibiting (take note Antartica); creating installations across the mesmerising London setting and illustrating how design can challenge, delight, educate and surprise. From the instagram-friendly to the in-depth studies, there’s a piece of the world for everyone at London Design Biennale and not a Eurovision presenter in sight. Catch a preview of some of the installations below and visit before 23 September to see the design world come together.
Australia | Full Spectrum by Flynn Talbot
After the success of Flynn Talbot’s Reflection Room at last year’s London Design Festival, hopes were high for Talbot’s return and Full Spectrum is by no means disappointing. The rainbow-coloured light installation is a celebration of love and openness, inspired by the recent amendment to the Marriage Act in Australia which saw same-sex marriage becoming legal. Made from 150 strands of fibre-optic light, the installation allows visitors to move freely and interact with the piece, bringing joy and a sense of pride to each and every soul to enter the room.
Dundee | Shpeel by Biome Collective
Beyond the visual serenity of Dundee’s installation, there is a hard-hitting reason for this piece of design, championing the use of colour and audio to encourage conversation and stimulate the brain. Shpeel, a misspelling of the word “spiel” which can mean either “to speak” or “to play”, is a prototype tool, currently being tested in Dundee, that aims to tackle the city’s growing mental health crisis with unemployment and deprivation at a high. The city’s entry explores how gaming and virtual technology can be used as an emotional vehicle to get people talking about their feelings and communicating in a way that works for them. Colour, sound and shapes all play a part in the conversation and allow the user to either create their own “emotional avatar” or combine with others to convey how they are feeling.
Egypt | Modernist Indignation by Mohamed Elshahed
If you’re a lover of Graphic Design or Architecture, Egypt’s entry will have you occupied for hours on end and as the winner of the London Design Biennale Medal 2018, awarded to the best overall contribution, there is some serious thought behind it. The installation mourns the loss of the country’s modernist architecture, a rich heritage that has been left to ruin or violently erased, and asks the question: how can a design language that was once embraced by a society be so easily forgotten and denied a place in history?
Curator Mohamed Elshahed has created a contemporary reinterpretation of a fictional 1939 exhibition put on by the editors of Al Emara, the first Arabic-language design magazine, which was published between 1939 and 1959. This magazine is the most comprehensive record of the country’s embrace of modernist design and features stunning imagery. The typographer’s dream, an exhibition in its own right and worth the £19.50 ticket costs alone.
Greece | ΑΝΥΠΑΚΟΗ (Disobedience) by Studio INI
Celebrating disobedience and rebellious souls, Greece’s kinetic installation takes over the centre of the Somerset House courtyard. The 17-metre-long wall, constructed from a steel spring skeleton built up with recycled plastic from Smile Plastics, moves with the user and challenges the notions of everyday architecture. The scale and finish of the installation leaves visitors feeling sneaky when they enter, like they are somewhere they shouldn’t be, morphing around them as if to hide their journey and help them along their way.
Guatemala | Palopò by Olivero Bland Studio in Collaboration with Sylvia Denburg-Zyle
Participating in the Biennale surely means that you wish to put your country, city or territory on the map as a cultural destination and provide intrigue as to where the design has come from. Guatemala’s Palopò installation does exactly that, highlighting the the story of Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó – an initiative that seeks to transform an impoverished town on Lake Atitlán by painting it and filling it with pattern and colour.
Led by Designer Diego Olivero as well as designers, architects and local leaders; the team has painted the town’s 800 houses using patterns inspired by local textiles. Each family can choose from five colour combinations and a series of stencil designs, all based on the traditional huipil. This floating installation of contemporary geometric forms at the Biennale resemble those multi-coloured houses. When can I visit?
Hong Kong | Sensorial Estates by WE-DESIGNS, LAByrinth PROJECT
A feast for the sensations, Hong Kong’s installation takes hold of sight and smell with its scratch and sniff wallpapers. Featuring scents of opium, egg tarts, temples, incense or roast ducks, each wallpaper holds a moment in time in Hong Kong, playing back on the memories and emotions held when there. For a local or a tourist, these scents are likely to bring back a moment in time of a feeling of home; while for those of us whom have never been, they represent a taste of what could be.
Israel | Exposed Nerves
Another one for the graphic design fanatics. Israel are responding directly to the theme within the installation itself. As opposed to bringing with them a pre-planned installation, they are simply building the installation for the duration of the Biennale. Exposed Nerves is a multidisciplinary rapid-response design studio whose reflective design routine highlights identity, cultural and social issues. The studio features four creators at any given time and the walls of the exhibition change on a daily basis as the creative process demands.
Latvia | Matter to Matter by Arthur Analts
Winner of the London Design Biennale 2018 Best Design Medal, Matter to Matter by Arthur Analts of Variant Studio explores the city of Riga, Analt’s native town. Due to its proximity to the Baltic Sea, Riga has its own unique climate, with a constant humidity that often leads to condensation – the inspiration for the Latvian installation. Analts has visualised this condensation using a large green-glazed surface as an interactive platform for the transition of matter to matter: gas to liquid. The perfect spot for people watching, the installation absorbs as visitors come and go, leaving their marks on the wall and then disappearing to leave room for others.
Puerto Rico | Soft Identity Makers by Muuaaa Design Studio
Look out for the pink boiler suits gracing Somerset House as these belong to the Puerto Rican team who have created a fun-filled pavilion to showcase Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the USA where inhabitants can call themselves American citizens but have no voting rights. Exploring the ideas of nation and identity, Soft Identity Makers allows visitors to create their own visual identity via an algorithmic software that asks you to choose the imagery that best represents you. The identity-making process takes place at specially designed island-shaped counters and a completely bespoke t-shirt is created for those that visit during workshop hours.
USA | Face Values by Cooper Hewitt
Cooper Hewitt’s Face Values installation presents the ever-growing technology of facial recognition, sometimes in a matter of fact manner. In collaboration with a number of designers such as R. Luke DuBois and Zachary Lieberman, the exhibition explores alternative uses of technologies that are typically used for security, surveillance, and behavioural profiling. Winner of the London Design Biennale 2018 Emotional States Medal, this installation responds to the 2018 theme in a well-thought out manner.