‘Emotional States’ sets the theme for the 2018 London Design Biennale with Somerset House once again forming the brilliant backdrop to installations conceived by architects, designers and artists from six continents. The responses are varied. Apart from a handful of pavilions seemingly concerned with pleasing the instagram crowd, most others have responded with emotion and urgency to the sustainability of our planet, identity and nationhood, war and destruction and lost civilisations.
Some offer intellectual solutions. At the UK pavilion, ‘Maps of Defiance’ by Forensic Architecture looks at how design can directly inform new perspectives and lines of investigation. This is an emotional project about preserving disappearing cultures. Through digital tools and image-capture the team record and preserve evidence of cultural heritage destruction and genocide, such as the savagely ravaged Yazidi community of Iraq presented at the Biennale. The idea is to eventually reconstruct the buildings and rebuild these communities.
At the US pavilion, ‘Face Values’ by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum explores alternative uses of technology, and consider the vast capabilities of digital design. We are encouraged to make expressive gestures and allow the machine to translate our emotions, so live facial data form the basis for a dialogue on the provocative relationship between man and machine.
A few pavilions take a dark dystopian turn. Austria’s ‘After Abundance’ asked us to enter a terrifying post climate change world where Alpine forests are fast disappearing and rain is artificially created. ‘Matter to Matter’, the LDB winning pavilion by Latvia’s Arthur Analts of Variant Studio, asks visitors to leave fleeting messages on his wall of condensation to explore the transience of emotions and the ways in which nature reclaims the marks we leave behind. Others offer a touch of hope. Over at the Brazil pavilion, London-based designer David Elia sets out to give a voice to ecological anger with his ‘Desmatamento’ (deforestation). This tranquil room shares the beauty and significance of the diminishing Amazon rainforest.
Finally, the Refugees’ Pavilion tells the story of the survival of displaced people through creativity. Housed within the flat-pack structure ‘Better Shelter’ (the winner of the Design Museum‘s 2016 Design of the Year), we enter the temporary world of refugees to see their stories through the objects they place on display, so as to humanise their conditions.
LDB opened its doors to the public last week and will be at Somerset House, London until 23 September.
All images © Ed Reeve