Collective workshop

The eclectic Jan Boelen, director of the Z33 Arts Centre in Hasselt and of the Ljubljana Biennial of Design (BIO), presents the 50th edition, where a team approach will triumph.


Interviews / Maria Cristina Didero

A team approach triumphs for the 50th anniversary of the Ljubljana Biennial of Design (BIO), established in 1964 and today directed by the eclectic founder (in 2002) and art director of Z33, one of the most brilliant institutions in its field, as well as director of the Master in Social Design at the Design Academy Eindhoven and chairman of the Flemish Committee for Architecture and Design: Jan Boelen is a true design intellectual.

Boelen will be flanked by co-curators Cvetka Požar, art historian and curator of the Museum of Architecture and Design in Ljubljana (MAO), and Maja Vardjan, an architect by training and curator at both the MAO and of “Silent Revolutions: Contemporary Design in Slovenia”.

BIO 50 Kick-off event, 13-14 February 2014

This year’s event opens on 18 September (closing 7 December 2014) and is marked by a strong collective and experimental focus developed in several themes that see design as one of the driving forces of our times, capable of invading and impacting positively on all areas of our daily lives. After an open call that attracted hundreds of applications worldwide, Jan Boelen handed experts (including Professor Tadej Glažar,  Rianne Makkink of Studio Makkink & Bey, chef Klemen Košir and food-curator Lucas Mullié, designers Aldo Bakker, Judith Seng and Tina Hocevar, to mention but a few) 11 macro-themes: Affordable Living, Knowing Food, Public Water Public Space, Walking the City, Hidden Crafts, The Fashion System, Hacking Households, Nanotourism, Engine Blocks, Observing Space and Designing Life.

BIO 50 Kick-off event, 13-14 February 2014

Each one is energetically and innovatively explored in depth, as the titles suggest. This is an unusual operation in which, for the first time, the challenge regarding what design can actually give us stems from individuals who see this discipline as a propeller that permeates all the many different “layers” of everyday life in a way that is simultaneously precise, multidisciplinary and progressive.  It is a “work in progress” of contents that, although specifically directed, will still surprise. Seeds planted beforehand will bear fruit during the months when the Biennial is developing and growing like a chrysalis, and last until it ends. The fruits developed over the months by all the teams will be gathered and the ideas and potential examined, as too the substance and desire for change. The teams are invited to collaborate and share – another challenge of this “collective movement of ideas”. Collaboration and sharing is assured by an Award for Best Collaboration, selected by illustrious jury members such as German designer Kostantin Grcic and English critic and author of the book Hello World: Where Design Meets Life, Alice Rawsthorn.

BIO 50 Kick-off event, 13-14 February 2014

BIO 50 will be a biennial of individuals looking in the same direction, towards an previously unconsidered possible future for design. In Ljubljana, they are saying: “The Biennale is looking for individuals to shape possible futures for design.”

Domus: Under your direction, this 2014 Biennale looks like a coral event. Could you tell us more about this peculiar choice?

Jan Boelen: More than a choice, BIO 50’s shift in direction was a necessity. The invitation to curate this Biennial made me reflect on the significance and impact of a design event today. It made no sense to continue within the pedagogical effort of an awards competition, which was the framework within which BIO – as most design events created in the 20th century – originated. Back then, the world was a place of mass production and distribution; today, we are seeing a transition towards small-scale, local and specific scenarios of production, where the designer is no longer an all-powerful creator, but an element in a network of collaboration and influence. Any design even that seeks to truly reflect the contemporary must embrace these changes, and for BIO, that meant a shift towards collaboration and complexity. This generates what you called a “choral” event, where many multidisciplinary agents come together, with their strengths and weaknesses, to create something new.

BIO 50 Kick-off event, 13-14 February 2014

D: In your words, what is the future of design?

JB: Design has become a form of enquiry, of power, and of agency. The discipline can, today, be a tool with which to question and transform ideas about industrial production, public and private space, and pre-established systems and networks. As the design field grows in complexity and in multiple directions, it becomes impossible to speak of a single future for design. Instead, we can speak about possible futures. With BIO 50, we are attempting to explore some of these.

BIO 50 Kick-off event, 13-14 February 2014

D: You have divided your Biennale in several themes, which spread from social to fashion. It looks like a unique biennale, conceived as a collective laboratory on different theme. What are your expectations?

JB: The BIO 50 themes were defined following a series of research trips to Slovenia, and always in dialogue with local and international agents. From Affordable Living to Knowing Food and from The Fashion System to Hacking Households, the topics not only resonate with local and global demands, but also tackle issues at the micro and macro scale. The collaborative work process was launched earlier in February, and at the moment, more than 100 participants from all over the world are working simultaneously in the creation of one or more projects that will be presented at the opening of BIO 50, on 18 September. The idea of the laboratory was present from the inception of the BIO 50 concept, and as in all laboratories, there are more chances for failure than success. However, considering the more than 120 people that gathered in Ljubljana a couple of weeks ago for the teamwork kick-off, I truly believe that something extraordinary will come out of this effort. The determination and energy I saw in those days brings to mind Francis Alÿs’ 2002 project When Faith Moves Mountains, and confirms that collaboration is the obvious and necessary way to go.

from September 18, until December 7, 2014
BIO 50
Ljubljana, Slovenia