WE ARE all jarringly well acquainted and accustomed to imagery of melting ice caps, shivering koalas and dry arid lands, whilst we sit cosily on the other side of the world, seemingly so far from this apocalyptic state. It all feels very disconnected, fragmented and frankly very doom and gloom.
In comes the 2021 London Design Biennale at Somerset House, whooshing in with great waves of positivity and possibility for the future. This years theme is resonance, the Cambridge dictionary definition being “the quality of being loud and clear.”
Indeed the London Design Biennale have answered their very own question loud and clear ‘Can we design a better world?’, yes we can. Each room is divided into a diverse range of different projects, countries and organisations that all interpret the theme in their own brilliant way.
A Biennale for all ages, each room challenges and provokes us to change our perspective. The first room, housing German designers Peter Eckart and Kai Linke’s Spoon Archeology, displays disposable cutlery like archaeological findings, encouraging us to examine our throw away culture. Spoon Archaeology is a glimpse of the future for on the 3rd of July 2021, the EU will ban plastic cutlery. In years to come today’s children will look back at our eating habits and utensils in horrified wonder.
Similarly, in Design In An Age Of Crisis, an exhibition created by the Biennale and Chatham House, honours the freedom and creativity of children’s imagination. As the Nobel Prize winning chemist and biochemist, Linus Pauling stated, “the best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas”, highlighting the necessity for children to be a part of the conversation, it is their future that will be effected after all.
In this particular space, we are encouraged to write an idea down and hang it up on the provided tree, an activity you probably haven’t done since primary school and yet this form of affirmation is arguably the only way we can affect change. Emblazoned across the exhibits wall is American computer scientist, Adam Kay’s quote “the best was to predict the future is to invent.”
Austria chooses Tokens for Climate Care, explaining the necessity for artificial intelligent tokens that “aim to activate and communicate collective climate protection.” Canada dedicates its installation to Revery architecture’s DUCkT where they look at the expense of the building sector on our planet, specifically its carbon intensiveness and inefficiency. Indonesia addresses the global south housing dilemma in their pavilion assessing modern designs failure of social equality and inclusivity.
That’s not to say the Biennale is solely made up of loud ideas and performative action. Amongst the can do and will do installations you’ll also find space for quiet solitude and contemplation. Finland’s Empathy Echo Chamber resembles a giant pillow like, silver reflective box, designed by Enni-Kukka Tuamala, who asks us to remove ourselves from our own echo chambers “which exemplify polarisation, isolation and mistrust in the information age, the Empathy Echo Chamber creates a communal movement of exchange, where visitors are prompted to step outside themselves to really see and be seen by each other.”
This very notion of being seen and the act of seeing is tied up within the messy world of social media, a territory that Israel’s Boiler Room braves, examining the rise in globalisation and nationalism. In the Boiler Room we can literally turn off and on the hot social and political hashtags of the time at the flick of a switch.
Most calming of all can be found in Taiwan’s Swingphony installation where a collection of metronomes and lanterns collaborate in electro magnetic and alpha waves to create a temple like atmosphere, forming a deep connection with us as we stroll through the glowing lights and gentle music.
If the £22.50 ticket price doesn’t appeal, standing magnificently at the centre of the Somerset House courtyard is Forest for Change, a free installation by Es Devlin, the Artistic Director of the Biennale. Arranged in a circle within the 400 tree forest sit the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals that aim to eradicate poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.
The premise behind the forest aligns with Perry’s connection to nature — after learning that trees were forbidden from the courtyard upon Somerset Houses conception 250 years ago, Devlin wanted to “counter this attitude of human dominance over nature, by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard.”
Designed in collaboration with landscape designer Philip Jaffa and Urban Greening Specialists Scotscape and presented in partnership with Project Everyone, the forest allows space for us “to engage and alter our behaviour and it is our hope that an interaction with the Goals in the forest will be transformative.”
Often you leave art spaces inspired, but not so often do you leave with the urge to transform. The London Design Biennale is one such occasion. After a year of collective experience, the Biennale celebrates universality, working together to tackle the meaty stuff head on in an approachable, digestible, fun and solution driven manner. The world asks of you, don’t miss out on this life changing exhibition.
by Charlie Newman
The London Design Biennale is on until June 27. Tickets can be bought here