Monday, June 2, 2008

DMY International Design Festival, Berlin

I am so excited to post The Design Files' very first contribution from an international correspondent! James Conway is a Sydney-born writer currently based in Berlin. James attended Berlin's new DMY international design festival just over a week ago, and here he shares his finds with us.

James' very thorough coverage of the festival is split into 2 parts - today we've got a detailed round-up of 7 varied events at different venues across Berlin, and tomorrow James focuses on the DMY Youngsters exhibition, showcasing emerging design talent from all corners of the globe.

Coverage of international design events always reminds me how far I am from all the action! I love browsing through the image galleries at Core 77, Designboom and Inhabitat etc... but I never thought I'd have first-hand coverage of an international design festival on my very own blog (without getting on an plane myself!). Anyway, suffice to say it's very exciting to be able to share first-hand original coverage of a major international event on this site. A very big thankyou goes to James for all his hard work!

Read on for the first of this two-part round-up of DMY Berlin 2008!

As innumerable blogs, newspapers and glossy magazines tell us, Berlin is the place to be, with its reputation as a creative centre higher than at any time since the 1920’s. But although we hear a lot about the artists who take advantage of the city’s low rents and free spirit, what about the designers? How are they getting on in a city described by its own mayor as “poor but sexy”? A cynic might say there are a lot of people with the time and talent to create 300 euro fruit bowls, but very few who can afford them. Indeed this mismatch of funds and enthusiasm has already claimed a victim in Designmai, 2007’s design festival.

Undeterred, DMY Berlin has stepped in with a new five-day event hosted by venues all over the city. And the good news is that as with the annual Berlinale film festival, the public is not just tolerated but actively encouraged to see as much as possible, with no velvet ropes and few industry-only events.

DMY encapsulates the low budget, high concept creativity which in this city is as ubiquitous as oxygen. Everywhere you have the sense of ideas given time and space to grow without being rushed to market, and indeed at times it’s not easy to tell where concept becomes commerce. Typical for Berlin is a ground-floor shop front which may be a studio, a gallery, a boutique, a bar, someone’s lounge room or all of the above. Sure they look like they were decorated out of petty cash, but always with a resourcefulness which makes the most of minimal means, and without the off-putting arrogance on offer in other cities.

Stumbling across these ambiguous enterprises is one of the joys of living in a city which becomes stranger and more fascinating the longer you get to know it. DMY’s decentralised approach combines this same thrill of discovery with the dawning realisation that you just can’t get to everything.

But it’s worth a try. Starting in Mitte, down the road from the Australian Embassy (itself a design classic), Bell Magazine was flying the flag for thought-provoking publishing. The self-described “exhibition in a box” took the more conventional route of an exhibition in a gallery, with displays including lengths of wallpaper in vivid orange. Next door in Galerie Tristesse, feather-light polyester vellum lampshades and room dividers by Israel’s FAF Design fluttered becomingly.

Lampshade and room divider by FAF design

Among the other invited talent, a group of contemporary Turkish designers presented remixes of their own traditions amongst the antiquities of the Museum of Islamic Art under the banner of Turkish Delight. Their interpretations of iconic designs, such as the sensual curve of a rug seemingly held in the air by a spell to become a bench, were often witty and always elegant. A traditional prayer cap was turned on its head to serve as a filigreed bread basket, the fez reappeared with a Bronx twist and the classic tea glass was given a respectful makeover.

Bench (left) and Fescap (right) both by Erdem Akan

More from Turkish Delight - a traditional prayer cap is turned on its head to serve as a filigreed bread basket (left),and vessels by Alev Ebüzziya Siesbye (right)

In the Appel Design Gallery, acclaimed London-based Spaniards El Ultimo Grito showed one-off pieces in shrill fluorescents, the standout being a gorgeous dining table made of nothing more than cardboard and masking tape in deafening orange, which was fast becoming the signature colour of the festival. In a Friedrichshain showroom, local designer Susanne Philippson offered restrained pieces which all featured a slight kink in the surface, but in case you were misled by the Nordic aesthetic, the show was defiantly labelled Not Swedish.

(left) - oversized alphabet letters made from recycled packaging by El Ultimo Grito (follow the link for a great video of these soft sculptures in action), and lamps by Susanne Phillippson (right)

In Kreuzberg, traditionally the city’s counter-cultural centre, the wonderful Museum der Dinge (Museum of Things) put design in historical context, literally shining a spotlight on humble domestic items and mapping their evolution since the dawn of mass production. At Radialsystem V, talks on everything from “developing authorship and the search for new typologies” to “how to be a real Korean designer” carried this spirit of inquiry to the present day and on into the future. This is Berlin after all; you can’t get away with just showing a handsome sideboard, you need to able to talk up a whole theory around it.

Classic domestic furniture and household items on display
at Museum der Dinge ('Museum of Things')

But questioning form and function all day is thirsty work, so festival-goers drank away their ennui in a series of club nights which shook the double glazing in locations from a converted Kreuzberg factory to 15 storeys above Alexanderplatz. And then? Up again the next morning to do it all over again of course. Five days starts to seem like a very long time…

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post from Berlin - James Conway covers the DMY Youngsters design exhibition, and shares lots more photos...!

1 comment:

  1. We posted our photos from the event.
    Take a look at our flickr album at: