Four thought-provoking tech exhibits at London Design Biennale
Image credit: John Nguyen/PA Wire
This week, the second London Design Biennale opens at Somerset House, bringing together designers, artists and activists from 40 countries, cities, and territories to present installations on the theme of "Emotional States".
According to Chris Turner, V&A artistic director, this festival’s theme reflects the “politically and emotionally turbulent times” which characterises the world today. Turner commented that emotion was becoming more significant in politics: from negative claims that voters are most influenced by fear, hope and anger to the appointment of “ministers for happiness” and “ministers for loneliness”.
The installations – which were designed and constructed by teams across six continents – present a broad range of interpretations of the theme, with items on display varying from an enormous glass case of raw cashmere in Mongolia’s Toirog to scented bursts of air in Qatar’s The State of You. Here, E&T takes a look at four of the most tech-focused installations at the Biennale.
Coal: Post-Fuel, Sweden
Gleaming black structures cover and climb up from the floor, formed of bricks, blocks and tiles; one large cube block is polished and gleams like marble. Coal is typically seen as an entirely practical material with one purpose: to be burned. This installation looks at the possibilities for coal as a material for architecture and interior design.
“I think there are more interesting things to do with the material than burn it,” Jesper Eriksson, designer of Post-Fuel, told E&T. “I think there’s a lot of room to explore it further.”
Eriksson spent weeks in a Welsh coal mine researching the material for the installation. He used 95 per cent carbon coal to create the structures; like ceramics, this proves fragile when thrown to the ground, he says, but can be used effectively in tiling and for other purposes. He hopes that the installation may spark conversations about alternative uses for “Britain’s most iconic material”, particularly given that there has been little research done into alternative uses for coal.
Power Plant, the Netherlands
This striking exhibition space is bathed in shocking pink LED light and resembles a section of a modern greenhouse, with real plants growing in suspended pots. Power Plant is a “futuristic greenhouse” which uses sunlight to generate electricity as well as food, with solar glass, light of certain wavelengths and a hydroponic system helping to maintain the conditions necessary for year-round growth. In the background, we hear recorded sounds of farmers at work.
“We hope to build a Kew Gardens of the 21st century, where we celebrate modern technologies and grow the plants of the future” said designer Marjan van Aubel in a statement.
This installation demonstrates the hopeful nature of innovative design and technology and how, by reimagining solar panels as desirable objects, they could be adopted in a range of different settings.
“Solar energy doesn’t have to be ugly and can be implemented in the most unexpected places,” said van Aubel. “Design gives us the ability to imagine a future where efficiency and functionality are on an equal footing with beauty.”
Learning and play for all, Norway
Learning and play for all demonstrates how technology and inclusive design – which the Norwegian government has committed to integrating into every part of society by 2025 – can transform education.
This installation reconstructs a familiar school classroom, except three of the desks come complete with tablets loaded with an interactive educational game while the fourth has a robot resembling a human head and shoulders. This telepresence robot, AV1, is equipped with camera, microphone and speakers. At the back of the classroom is a bedroom, demonstrating how children too ill to attend school in person could still engage fully with their school using avatar technologies such as AV1 to join in with school activities and interact with their classmates.
“This is an amazing example of how you can combine inclusive design and technology with education,” said Onny Eikhung, curator and programme leader for Design For All at the Norwegian Design Council.
Maps of Defiance, UK
This sombre installation explores how forensic architecture is being used to document the genocide of the Yazidi Ngo Yazda (Kurdish religious minority) in their ancestral home of Northern Iraq at the hands of Islamic State. The genocide has come with the destruction of ancient buildings and the kidnapping and sex slavery of Yazidi women.
According to Ariel Caine of Forensic Architecture, the Yazidi have a traditionally orally transmitted religion, so when the time came to reconstruct their ruined holy buildings, there was little documentation to work from.
Forensic Architecture has been working with Yazda, an NGO, to collect evidence of genocide in the region and piece together a map of destruction of religious sites, mass graves and evidence of sex slavery. The team has used a combination of high-tech (satellites and drones) and low-tech equipment (ground cameras, community drones made with digital cameras, kites, balloons and plastic bottles) to thoroughly survey the area and digitally reconstruct the scenes of destruction in 3D.
“This research project is an important piece of evidence that will hopefully help bring the perpetrators of these war crimes to account,” said Eyal Weizman, founder of Forensic Architecture.