Dutch Design Week. Alibaba’s e-commerce empire dissected in Eindhoven exhibition

With installations, videos, performances and interactive installations, the exhibition curated by Martina Muzi and Joseph Grima at Van Abbemuseum looks to the world’s largest online trading company.

“Geo Design: Alibaba. From here to your home”, installation view, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week 2018

Among new collections, experimental prototypes and alternative materials, exhibitions, happenings and installations, one of the most prominent events of Dutch Design Week 2018 is the investigation presented by the Design Academy Eindhoven at Van Abbemuseum: the exhibition “Geo Design: Alibaba. From here to your home”. The research analyses one of the largest e-commerce giants in the world, Alibaba Group, founded in 1999 by Jack Ma, the Asian counterpart of Jeff Bezos and the richest man in China.

Alibaba is not only an online e-commerce platform (Alibaba.com in China and Aliexpress.com in the western states), but also a social network, a financial institution, an innovation centre, an online service provider, a logistics structure... To observe such a complex and stratified entity, the curators Martina Muzi and Joseph Grima asked for the contribution of 9 Academy alumni who, with different approaches and tools – video, set design, interactive design, performance... – offer original insights and points of view.

The exhibition opens with a video of the Taobao Village, one of the main locations of the e-commerce giant. “252 two-wheeled vehicles, 13 three-wheeled vehicles, 168 cars, 107 vans, 4 buses and 17 people passed through the front door of Shuiku from 13 on September 7, 2018” – Martina Muzi tells us – “it is important to understand that behind the surface of the online interface there is a complex network of physical infrastructures in which individuals dedicate entire lives to specific roles”.

“Geo Design: Alibaba. From here to your home”, vedute della mostra, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week 2018
“Geo Design: Alibaba. From here to your home”, installation view, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week 2018

Within the exhibition, local and global collide continuously and redundantly. Among other installations: an inflatable globe designed by Irene Stracuzzi shows the netwoek of global relations created by Alibaba, involving more than 200 countries; Jing He invited two Chinese KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) to “work” inside the museum, streaming their usual sale of products through platforms associated with Alibaba; Studio Maxime Benvenuto instead created an archive of articles that tell the diplomatic relations between Jack Ma and Western leaders.

“Geo Design: Alibaba. From here to your home”, vedute della mostra, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week 2018
“Geo Design: Alibaba. From here to your home”, installation view, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. Dutch Design Week 2018

The global impact and ramification of Alibaba is impressive. The company influences design and its production at all levels. If the approach of the Design Academy (and Dutch Design) is to broaden the boundary of what is considered design, with this exhibition it seems that the intention is to definitely get out of the safe niche of the discipline and critically address the processes and effects of the world around us.

The exhibition will end on November 11, 2018, on the occasion of Singles Day, the event that Alibaba invented in opposition to Valentine's Day, and that in 2017 counted a turnover of 24 billions in 24 hours, becoming the most important holiday in the world for online shopping.

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