Design biennale: Broad and cluttered by genius

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Design biennale: Broad and cluttered by genius

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One of the advantages of the Gwangju Design Biennale is also one of its drawbacks. It’s so broad that you get a glimpse of everything. On the other hand, there is no specific theme.
The exhibition, which began earlier this month and runs through Thursday, is at two main venues in Gwangju ― the Kimdaejung Convention Center and the City Hall. It covers a wide range of areas, featuring designs from the past to the future, and from young emerging designers to industry leaders.
This year’s show is titled “Light into Life.” The works of big name firms such as Seymour Powell and Ideo, and designers like Karim Rashid and Syd Mead can be found in the Convention Center. Meanwhile, in front of Gwangju City Hall, the event’s organizers commissioned the Italian designer Alessandro Mendini to build a gigantic formative art piece called “Prayer.”
On the 17th, the main exhibition hall at Kimdaejung Convention Center became vibrant as thrilled young designers and guests mingled with biennale visitors for a pre-opening event.
One of the most brilliant new works of the exhibition is in the New Wave of Design section. Sohn Junglim, a Korean designer and lecturer at Hanyang University, combines two common childhood activities ― playing with water and making music with xylophones. The Water Xylophone is a conceptual instrument. Depending on where you strike the water (which has a 5-volt charge) a computer generates xylophone notes accordingly.
Along with design biennales in France and China, this is one of the few design shows of its kind, and the biggest design event in Korea.
Despite its magnitude, some critics have said that the show lacks a coherent theme. Also, in many cases, the works are displayed without partitions. This was actually deliberate, according to Kim Myung-hwan, one of the organizers. “The occidental understanding of space lies in the segregation of space. The Oriental understanding is that they can not be separated.”
Despite such profound reasoning, this manner of display makes it difficult to focus on one object. For example, at the Asian Design section, despite having many intriguing items, one feels like it is merely a flea market, with numerous distracting objects crammed into one space.
Nevertheless, this is still the best event for people to get a general overview of the world of design.
Overall, one can only hope that the emphasis on design will not fade overnight like so many fads, considering that design has become a major topic in the Korean commercial sector recently.
“In terms of design, Italians focus on aesthetics,” said Alessandro Mendini, the 75-year-old Italian designer best known for his works for Alessi, at the night before the opening. “Germans focus on function and Japanese on miniaturization. Korea’s future in design lies in high technology.”
Lee Soon-jong, the general director of this biennale says that Gwangju is playing its part in the future of Korean design.
“The role of the designer has changed from pre to post millennium,” he says. “Many designers in Korea had been just stylizing objects. Now they are required to be the scenario creators of modern life, devising new concepts in our everyday lives. Gwangju will play a leading role for experimentation and the exploration of these issues.”


by Kim Kyoung-mo
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