This year’s edition of Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven is all about the power of imagination. According to the festival’s organizers, its motto What if? remains a key question and a catalyst of every worthwhile and innovative activity. Designers’ absolute imagination makes them pose more and more unflinching and unpredictable questions. Questions so daringly simple and yet often so confusing and thought-provoking – How come I haven’t come up with this? This is where the power of design reveals itself – in its simplicity. What I have in mind, however, is not necessarily minimalist chairs and tables.
Nothing stimulates a design thought as powerfully as a student’s imagination does – imagination unrestricted by the needs of the market. As always, graduation projects made by students of one of the most famous design schools in the world – Design Academy Eindhoven – displayed annually during the Graduation Show introduce trends which depart from the purely formal search of the tangible. For design is more and more often an activity, a concept or a thought – its form is not material. Even the trend of the laboratory, experimental working with living materials seems a bit stale, despite it still having numerous followers and being present at this year’s festival as the core concept of the exhibition Transnatural Art & Design – Playing Life.
We do observe trends and can boldly claim that the future of design does not lie in creating new objects, but in conscious creating of social strategies.
What if nationality was relative?
Why not just use one another’s passports, depending on where we want to go, and enjoy all civil privileges or experience difficulties? Stefania Vulpi’s project Universal Unconditional puts this question forward by proposing the creation of an online platform for documents exchange. We live in times where more and more people migrate. Saying this, I think of every shade of the contemporary nomadism – there are economic emigants, refugees as well as students and people of creative professions. By travelling and changing places of residence, we face less and more serious problems. There are countries privileging their citizens to such an extent that quite a number of expats would love to possess another nationality, at least for a while. Stefania keeps wondering why shouldn’t she – the person who lives in the Netherlands – make her Italian nationality available to an emigrant in need? The Dutch passport she has would give her all the privileges Dutchmen have.
The project, in its simplicity and unpretensious obviousness, becomes a crucial and critical voice in the current debates over the global migration policy. And it’s not the waves of refugees from the Middle East I have in mind – this issue is much more complex. I would prefer to associate the project with a rather narrower group of its users, e.g.: citizens of the European Union. At this point, a question arises – how does it happen that despite the EU’s dismantling of internal borders and its principle of openness we still face diffucilties and are treated differently than the citizens of the countries we choose to live in? We can move freely and easily across Europe but that does not mean we are free of an overwhelming influx of bureaucratic requirements or the feeling of unfair treatment – as contemporary Nomads, we have to face up to it. On the one hand we are free. On the other hand, a quick and painless assimilation is not always a possibility. That’s why I would go a little further than Stefania and ask a question – isn’t it right, that a paper passoport today is the thing of the past being compared more and more often with paper students’ books that are being gradually withdrawn? The present situation on the market requires us to move constantly, therefore a lot of people do not stay in one place for long. Our jobs often make us live in quite a rush, we move often – not only across the European Union. That’s where problems spring up again, for example the problems of visas so difficult or even impossible to get. These striking contradictions make us reflect on the need to rethink and redesign the system of nationality identification in such a way that it would correspond to the present reality and respect human rights. Let’s ask ourselves then: what if tomorrow we could exchange passports?
What if there was one embassy for all the refugees?
Manon van Hoeckel is a DAE graduate whose graduation project also touches upon the political dimension of the migration crisis. She sees the refugee-asylum country relationship as lacking a normal, direct contact. We often view refugees as a homogenous mass without noticing that individuals have their own, separate histories and problems which – very often – cannot be solved by passing new laws. A lost migrant has nowhere to go to seek the official kind of help – help citizens of EU countries would be provided with by their embassies. Hence the idea of In Limbo Embassy – a universal, neutral embassy for every refugee without documents. It is a little bit reminiscent of multi-faith prayer rooms at airports, but seems to be more valid and tangible. For, as long as religion remains a deeply personal and delicate issue, the refugee’s needs are real and pragmatic. Equally significant is a refugee’s need to feel safe that could be satisfied by an eye-to-eye , intimate conversation. Manon van Hoeckel created a mobile embassy in the form of a trailer the inside of which is entirely white so it does not suggest any nationality. On the walls hang portraits of refugees wrapped in blankets reminding of royal robes. What if everyone had a chance to meet a migrant in person in this kind of mobile center? Perhaps we would succeed in doing away with all xenophobic fears and seeing refugees as common neighbors?
Another aspect design strategists focus on, right after social policy, is centered on the virtual sphere. The virtual sphere and the contemporary reality have been pervading one another so smoothly that it may be of no use to distinguish between them any longer. Against all appearances, however, there are still missing links between what’s virtual and what’s real.
What if the Internet was made of paper?
A black computer screen and nothing left in your head…does it sound familiar? Every Internet digger has at least once experienced losing all bookmarks containing a meticulously compiled collection of “treasures”. That’s how it is now – the Internet stands as our main source of inspiration and information while the bookmarks bar has become for us what a shoe box with press cuttings was for my grandma. I love looking back to the past, to the time when my grandma would show me her favorite cut-out articles with her own comments and underlines. Today, we don’t take such pains – if we want to share an interesting article it suffices to simply copy and paste because the majority of journalistic materials is often published exclusively on the Internet. On the other hand, how likely and how tragic it is now to lose all the collected data! Another issue lies in the immaterial character of information. And even though we are getting used to the thought that having our favorite magazines on iPads and beloved books on Kindles is much more convenient than heavy backpacks hurting our shoulders, still, on smelling the print and feeling a paper page we succumb to atavistic excitement. That’s why I think that Sara Sturges’ platform Printernet, not to be confused with Pinterest, would gain a lot of enthusiasts. Sara’s idea is a missing link between the virtual and the real world. If we want to have Internet content printed, we need to have prints generated from a browser, and because of numerous hyperlinks and the incompatibility of HTML and PDF, we end up having pages with scattered images and texts. We are deprived of the sheer joy of reading. To put it short, all these printed, clipped into one and coffee-stained pages are of rather temporal and low value.
Blogging websites with ready-made layouts for our own use have become a common thing. Everyone finds them easy to use and grasp. It is even more surprising then, how difficult it is for those who aren’t computer graphic designers to make a home-made printed and – most of all – neat – publication. It’s nowhere near as simple as the creation of an aesthetic blog.
A designer offers a platform similar to blogging websites. Thanks to it we can make beautiful, physical books comprising an entire content of our bookmarks – neatly arranged and bound according to our tastes. What if a courier appeared at your doorstep tomorrow holding a bound book with your fascinations so that you could finally read them with a pencil in your hand, touch them, smell them, and even give them a kiss?
What if everyone could actively participate in cataloging trends?
It’s absurd how repetitive design trends have become – say the authors of Not Another. They deplore the influence of the era of Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr on how fast and how far global trends spread. The unlimited access to the Internet in almost every part of the world has brought design and fashion to the point where trends are not set on the streets but in the virtual space. We are perfectly capable of defining them without leaving our homes or conducting an extensive research. It’s we who have been flooded with trends craving our attention – trends “smuggled” in thousands of pictures we scroll through every day. A question remains as to where those pineapples, exotic plants, marble surfaces, gradients, or post-postmodernist patterns come from… We live in the culture where everything is judged constantly and has to be impeccably presented. What is and what is not in vogue depends on the galloping changes – we can’t help but become the prisoners of aestheticization. Of course, we can criticize all those relations bringing us together but we can’t escape them easily. There exists a magic power of some sort that makes given things simply sexier in a given moment and there’s nothing to be done about it. And even I caught myself standing in blind admiration of an aesthetically beautiful form of the Not Another exhibition! It was composed of the above-mentioned objects such as a pineapple, leek, Monstera (a plant) and marble tiles carefully exhibited on a black checked minimalist counter. The composition simply begged to go on Instagram! I wasn’t the only one who fall for it… An entire website of one of the designers is kept in this kind of aesthetics – to what extent is it a matter of being a design victim and to what extent is it a conscious convention? This question remains open.
Designers offer to issue a magazine touching upon the problem of omnipresent aesthetic trends. Each issue would be entirely devoted to one omnipresent artifact voted for by people on the Internet. What if we could participate in such a voting? Perhaps we would become more attentive, sensitive and conscious as we would have the power to decide what has real value and what is only illusorily valuable.
How do we actually talk about trends these days when everything keeps changing so quickly? In the blink of an eye design tendencies take on a completely new dimensions depending on the political, economic and social situation… In the era when we’re flooded with information it is crucial to be able to distinguish between what’s valuable and universal and what’s temporary and fugitive. Design Academy Eindhoven teaches how to search inquisitively and astutely – the results of this teaching can be admired annually during the graduation exhibition where students present their innovative solutions. The best thing about the exhibition is the fact that next year we will see completely new projects touching upon issues relevant to the world at that particular point in the future.
Text: Zuza Mielczarek
Photo: Zuza Mielczarek, press materials
Zuzanna Mielczarek, b. 1990 in Poznań. In 2014, she defended her architectural project of an urban educational farm at the University of Arts in Poznań and obtained the title of an engineer/architect. At present, she lives both in Rotterdam and Poznań and continues her search for design inspiration at Delft University of Technology and Poznań University of Arts. She’s interested in design as a stimulus for social change and interpersonal relations. She’s been in training in such architectural firms as Medusa Group in Bytom, SHAU in Rotterdam, but also in a furniture design and woodworking studio Atelier 365 in Brussels. Her achievements comprise, among other things, furniture projects and cardboard toys.