LONDON (ANTI) DESIGN FESTIVAL 2010: A SELF-DIRECTED CRITIQUE

Intriguing pieces

Last week was marked by another London Design Festival which swept the capital with events and exhibitions (allegedly) dedicated to design, in all its glory. Running since 2003, the event has grown from strength to strength, and established the city of London as one of the main design stages in the world along Milano, Köln and New York. It also points to the long course the design business in the UK has taken since the early eighties when the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, recognized the potential for value creation (and more tax revenue, of course) by publicly urging designers, and the concerned organizations, to promote themselves more vigorously.

Poster for The Anti Design Festival

During this period we witnessed the consolidation of fundamental cultural changes in Western societies originated mostly in the aftermath of WWII up until the late 70s. Besides the likes of civil-rights movement and feminism, another social transformation occurring at that time was the emergence of a new category of consumer citizens who fueled the economies in the West through a new, and often extravagant attitude towards material culture, also known as ‘conspicuous consumption’. It was in the same period that groups of intellectuals started interrogating these phenomena mostly affecting the middle-class strata, developing the well-known post-structuralist theories (Deleuze, Guattari, Baudrillard, etc) and influencing artistic movements such as the Situationist International, helping to form the culturally collapsed plasma of post-modernity in all its myriad of expressions.

Works presented at Londonewcastle project, part of LADF

Installation at Londonewcastle project

Wall installation at Londonewcastle project

It became clear however that during the last week the current (or old?) model based on continuous market and economic expansion has reached its point of utmost saturation in all senses. Firstly because the economic boom of the 90s and early 2000, which contributed to a massive surge in consumption, not only created a demand for increasingly distinctive design as a means of keeping abreast of competition but it consequently lured hordes of students into design schools since, creating a big imbalance and steep drop in relevant, meaningful creative output, paradoxically. Secondly, the ‘superficial coating’ strategy that the vast majority of companies tend to adopt, does nothing but lither our lives with dull products, bad solutions and even worse experiences. The result is that the side effects of conspicuous consumption is a beast that needs to be continuously fed and the social, environmental and above all, cultural costs are enormous.

Idea Generation Gallery artworks and installations

That is why, out of all the exhibitions/events I have seen during LDF, the ‘Anti Design Festival’ was perhaps the least obtuse as it tried to pull visitors from their ‘overly commercial spell’ by introducing the works of designers-turned-into-cultural-agitators to the public. Originally curated by Neville Brody (whose book ‘The Graphic Language of’ I am eternally indebted to) the event took several locations around Bethnal Green road, Hoxton and Liverpool St, displaying all sorts of artworks that, in one way or another, tried to raise questions about the critical state of contemporary material culture and cultural intermediation. The manifesto-style published on their website might sound a bit naïve in certain points but the overall message is simple: Western societies’ current system of values have reached breaking point. The meritocratic mentality pushed forward by America and its glorification of yuppie culture has done little to alleviate people’s anxieties where the equation money = consumption = happiness takes a manicheist dimension. Even worse, the impact of the ideal of success has not only contributed to create a constant state of frustration that can be miraculously treated by reification through consumption and status but also created a self-harming, suicidal ecosystem. The result we can attest by visiting design festivals such as the LDF: redundant variations on the same, exhausted themes, lack of critique, apathy and infinite dullness at the service of an over-complacent system whose sole objective is to increase profits.

Piece on display at KK Outlet

However, thanks to a minority of creatives there were a few examples of good, inquisitive thinking translated into products, solutions or just concepts and this is the attitude the organisers should be fostering by being more selective and rigorous in their criteria when choosing exhibitors. Truly lateral thinking and risk taking come at a price, we know, but it is certainly one worth paying.

Design that engages. Tent London and KK Outlet

Subversive rug by French subversive collective Bazooka

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About Vilmar hybridthoughts
HybridThoughts is a blog set up by Vilmar Pellisson and it is dedicated to the open debate of global contemporary culture in its most diverse forms. It endeavors to capture intriguing examples that illustrate the complexities and dynamism of cultural production and how it can combine, interact, react and transform our perceptions of the world and the way we live in a process characterized by reflexivity and subjectivities.

4 Responses to LONDON (ANTI) DESIGN FESTIVAL 2010: A SELF-DIRECTED CRITIQUE

  1. Marina says:

    Started following your website. Good content and you do write really well! Gostei.

  2. Matteo says:

    I’ve been to ADF only for the OCD (Obsessive Classification Disorder) performance last friday, so my take on it is limited and shouldn’t be extended to the whole initiative (which I still think is very valuable).
    Participants were asked to think of words in association with a given seed-word (eg: “If I say blue, what is the first word that comes up in your mind?”). These were then written down in a dingbat font (specially designed for ADF and including “subversions” of everyday symbols), printed as music sheets and given to musicians that were improvising on these “scores”. The results were beautiful, but I thought that meaning went lost in translation, so to say.
    I was also left with a sense of irritation for the abuse of empty buzzwords in the promotion of the event, set out to “re-order expectations and understandings of narrative and semiotics in a tableaux of storytelling and music”. Doesn’t this sound like a redundant variation on the same, exhausted themes?

    • Hi Matteo,
      many thanks for your comment.

      I think you have made a valid point here. My comment on ADF was probably not as critical as it should/could be as I tried to antagonize the LDF by electing an immediate counterpart. I do agree that their manifesto on several points sounds anachronic and perhaps naïve too, considering it didn’t demonstrate enough rigor to articulate a more consistent comment on the status of contemporary cultural intermediation.

      On the other hand it has the merit of laying bare the intellectual fatigue and complacency with which a large part of the design industry has been operating in the past years.

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