As we’ve often opined in these pages, design is a way of thinking, not a profession. An opinion we inevitably illustrate with a picture of a chair being used to hold a door open at Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle.
But in what do designers actually believe? What are their motivations? Their goals? From where does their understanding of design originate? Why design?
Such and similar questions form the core of the Depot Basel exhibition “Forum for an Attitude” which begins in Weil am Rhein and Basel on Friday October 16th.
“An attitude can start, for example, with the way you choose to buy your food, your clothes, your haircut, how you live,” explains Depot Basel co-founder and Forum for an Attitude curator Matylda Krzykowski, “and as a designer this attitude then transfers to your work and so we thought it would be interesting to see if we can define what a designer is and so try to make design understandable for those who don’t work in design.”
To this end Forum for an Attitude is presenting an exhibition of works by 24 contemporary designers at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery in Weil am Rhein and organising a series of complementing Forums, including workshops, presentations, joint meals and round tables, at Depot Basel’s own space; the two locations being separated by just 6 kilometres, thus allowing not only for an easy conceptual connection in context of Forum for an Attitude but a very easy physical connection – one made even easier since the new cross-border Tram 8 started linking downtown Weil am Rhein with uptown Basel every 10 minutes.
The exhibition in the Vitra Design Museum Gallery will present one project each from the selected international designers, projects which in conjunction with an interview with the designer aim to not only define the designer’s attitude but much more explain what contemporary design is, how the protagonists understand contemporary design and for all what the designers are searching for.
But why only contemporary designers? Would it not have been better, we venture, to have presented a selection of designers from across the ages and thus present a reflection on how designer’s attitudes have evolved over the decades and centuries?
“That’s not something that I think is of particular relevance”, replies Matylda without any hint of hesitation.
An answer which puts us in our place! We make no bones about the fact we happily would, and indeed often happily do, spend our days perusing the written works of Peter Behrens, Adolf Loos, George Nelson or Poul Henningsen. But is that so very wrong?
“There is a generation of designers who are interested in the discipline beyond the product or the market and who look at design from a social or cultural aspect”, explains Matylda, “and I think it is part of Depot Basel’s own attitude to explore why they decided to become designers, how they understand their function, what they aim to put into society through their work. The attitudes presented are diverse, the projects are diverse and range, for example, from political themes over crafts and onto new materials, they are not all necessarily innovative, but they all tackle contemporary issues, and Depot Basel’s interest is contemporary society.”
Parallel to and accompanying the exhibition in Weil am Rhein Forum for an Attitude also features five Forums in which individual topics will be discussed, ideas exchanged and positions sought with and amongst experts and lays alike; an extension of the exhibition which is very much in keeping with the Depot Basel philosophy that discussion around design is important, or at least the stimulation of an honest, open conversation around design is important. Consequently, and because as Matylda phrases it, “workshop-like formats are great for the people who participate, but no use for those who can’t”, each Forum has a set goal and at the end of the process a publication is planned, a publication which is intended to serve as the next stage of the discussion, “we’re not saying that this is it, that with this exhibition and these Forums that we have definitive, final answers” says Matylda, “Forum for an Attitude is just a beginning, it may become a long term format for Depot Basel and is certainly one we can well imagine transferring to other locations or presenting in new contexts.”
As it is Forum for an Attitude is being staged parallel to, and physically next to, the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition “The Bauhaus #itsalldesign“, which of course raises the question in how far the two are linked? Directly, in the opinion of #itsalldesign’s curator Jolanthe Kugler, “with Forum for an Attitude Depot Basel have chosen a theme that is inherently Bauhaus. The question of attitude is exactly the same as the question of a designer’s responsibility, the role of a designer, except that it isn’t formulated externally but comes from within the designer, and so in many ways we have here the same theme from two different perspectives.” For Matylda Krzykowski Forum for an Attitude can, in addition, be understood in context of #itsalldesign’s aim to explain the contemporary relevance of Bauhaus, “I don’t think when Bauhaus began they were aware of what an impact they would have, and similarly I don’t think many contemporary designers are aware of the impact they have or could have, because impact takes time and endurance. A concept is there and is present, but it is in the translation, the realisation, which proves if it is valid and if it can work. And our 24 designers are representative of this possibility, of the possibilities offered by contemporary design.”
Depot Basel and the Vitra Design Museum have been in friendly discussions about a possible cooperation for the past two or three years, and much like when two people you really like, and who both seem highly compatible, finally, start dating, on the one hand we’re happy that things have worked out, but on the other a bit concerned that it will all end in tears. Not least because of the inherent differences in the two institutions: Depot Basel is a relatively flexible organisation who work quickly and instinctively and where roles are defined but not fixed, in comparison the Vitra Design Museum is, and in the words of Managing Director Marc Zehntner, “a big, slow, bureaucratic institution. Even if we do like to consider ourselves otherwise!”
Consequently, we were keen to know from Matylda how she had experienced the cooperation, “You can ask me that a month after the opening”, she laughs.
Six kilometres and one tram journey later we ask Marc Zehntner the same question, “I’ll tell you in about a month”, he laughs.
The coyness on both sides is thoroughly enchanting; hides however a mutual respect and appreciation that comes through in conversation with all involved, and which we believe bodes well for the joint project, or as Jolanthe Kugler phrases it, “with their much lighter structure Depot Basel can realise things we can’t, and so I believe the cooperation can genuinely enrich both parties. And in context of this particular project I am really looking forward to seeing in how far the two exhibitions correspond to, refute and provoke one another. I am certain it will be good.”
If it is, as Matylda and Mark would no doubt happily concur, is something we will all have to wait and see.
Forum for an Attitude runs as an exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery, Charles-Eames-Str. 2, Weil am Rhein, Germany from Friday October 16th until Sunday February 14th. Full details, including opening times, can be found at www.design-museum.de
The five Forums take place at Depot Basel, Voltastrasse 43, 4056 Basel, Switzerland. The opening Forum looking at “Solidarity” takes place over the weekend 16-18th October, the subsequent looking at “Visibility” from November 5th until 8th. Full details, including how to participate, and information on the following three Forums can be found at depotbasel.ch