As part of their 50th anniversary celebrations Design School Kolding are staging the exhibition Beyond Icons – New perspectives on design, a showcase of 50 objects which presents a very personal interpretation of good design and thereby challenges popular conventions.
Just as defining “good art”, “good literature” or “good beer” is an impossibility, so to is “good design” undefinable. In a general sense. There is design that is good, just as there is art, literature and beer that is good, the designation is however always object/project specific, and is as much a subjective one as it is contextual. A good zombie fantasy novel is still a bad piece of literature.
Despite this we are all confronted on daily basis by “iconic” designs, designs celebrated as the epitome, the quintessence, of good design, and a classification that allows neither contradiction nor dissent.
And thereby distorts our understanding of design.
Seeking to reclaim the subjective in our understanding of design that is good, Design School Kolding asked 50 individuals to select one item which through their own professional or private experience they have found to be particularly useful, important and/or invaluable.
Or put another way, an item which represents a very personal understanding of “good design”, and understanding based on tangible reality rather than the intangibility of convention and perceived wisdom.
The result is Beyond Icons – New perspectives on design, an exhibition which not only provides a nice overview of the breadth of design, one which goes far beyond the fabled icons, but one which in doing so neatly debunks the notion of “iconic design”. And by extrapolation neatly debunks the notion of the “iconic”.
Staged alongside the Design School Kolding Graduate Exhibition in the Ruin Hall of Koldinghus, Beyond Icons opens with the Rector’s pants.
Or perhaps better, and more respectively, put, opens with the Corsinel ostomy support underwear by Annette Meyer and Astrid Krogh as selected by Design School Kolding’s Rector Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen. Designed for patients who have undergone an ostomy – a surgical procedure which diverts the intestine, causing it to exit through the abdominal wall – Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen notes that she particularly appreciates the way “the designer’s empathy, user insight, materials knowledge and eye for aesthetics make all the difference between the solution that just works and the solution that is meaningful”
As an exhibition Beyond Icons is a celebration of just such meaningful solutions, solutions which go beyond the functional, beyond the aesthetic, beyond the original brief, and which in doing so become autonomous entities who’s value is more than the sum of their parts.
The most prominent object in Beyond Icons is unquestionably the blue cycle lane as selected by architect and graphic designer Ane Cortzen. Introduced in the early 1980s to provide safe and efficient separation of cyclists, motorists and pedestrians at intersections and other urban irregularities, the simple, yet unequivocal, blue stripe has been recreated as a carpet which guides the visitors through the exhibition space and past objects as diverse as the fold-back clip as chosen by Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden Director Tulga Beyerle, the KEVI castor as chosen by designer and author Thomas Dickson or “quiet zone” train compartments as selected by the textile designer Mette Mikkelsen.
And while the blue carpet weaves its way through the grandeur of Koldinghus’s Ruin Hall, what is particularly pleasing with Beyond Icons is that there is absolutely no common thread running through the exhibition, no one theme, no curatorial intervention, it is a random collection of objects which have no relation to one another: and which in their utter disparity focus the attention on the question, what is design?
Is design the Danish folkeskole education system as selected by Peter William Barker, Head of Industrial Design at Design School Kolding?
Is design the Google algorithm as selected by digital technology expert Preben Mejer?
Is design the regeneration of Copenhagen’s Enghaveparken, the spiralizer, the glue gun, the Pussyhat Project, the Sarpaneva cast iron pot, the Gold Badge brooch, Poul Henningsen’s PH Lamp?
Beyond Icons presents the 50 selected projects as being design without commenting on the validity of that statement. That is left to you. And isn’t always that easy. But is entertaining. While the necessary process of consideration also provides clues to factors other than personal approval which could be considered as making a design a good design, and also factors which separates design from its cousins.
Whereas in the world of art there is the old joke, and occasional tragic reality, of, “is that art or can I throw it away?”, Beyond Icons is very much a case of “is that design or can I tidy it away?”. If you didn’t know you were in an exhibition you’d think someone had just left paper clips, tin openers, children’s running bikes and water carafes lying around Koldinghus, and feel compelled to pick them up and place them in a cupboard or drawer. Thereby underscoring that anonymous and inconspicuous as the objects may be, you automatically and naturally identify them as being functional objects with an inherent practical value. i.e. not art. You don’t have to search for their raison d’etre, the works inform you in a clear and concise manner.
Beyond Icons also succinctly underscores the enduring nature of design that is good. The brick as chosen by Danish MP and bricklayer Mattias Tesfaye is without question not only one of the most basic and simplest of all building elements, but when correctly employed, the most elegant; Gutenberg’s development of moveable typeface and the subsequent explosion of printing, as selected by Design School Kolding’s Head of Communication Design Stephan Saaltink, not only revolutionised the 15th century, but continues to inform and empower our 21st century; while the S.N.S sweater, an object which pushes very, very hard at our definition of design, was first knitted in 1929, and as the philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann states in his laudation, “few changes have been made over the years….. The firm’s stubbornness is remarkable in an otherwise changeable fashion world”
Fashion changes, design doesn’t. There’s a message in there somewhere. If we could only decipher it…..
An engagingly designed exhibition which not only makes intelligent use of the available space, but features some very well-considered settings, including a few touches of genuine humour and irony, touches which contribute very positively to the experience, we defer you dear reader to our Kolding #campustour post for our impressions on the Ruin Hall exhibition space and advice regarding how best to approach it.
Approaching Beyond Icons means suspending your own ideas about design and listening to the voices of the fifty. You won’t agree with all of them, not all will make convincing cases that their chosen object represents good design, for us some sound as if they are simply using the opportunity to promote a pet project, while one or the other invitee are brazenly showboating and enjoying the oxygen of publicity the exhibition has inadvisably given them; but the majority of the voices are interesting and relevant, as are their selections and the insights that can be gleaned.
Insights that one can then apply to the graduation projects, works untroubled by the need to be iconic, but very much intended as being good.
Beyond Icons – New perspectives on design runs at at Koldinghus, Koldinghus 1, 6000 Kolding until Monday October 22nd
Further information, including opening times, can be found at www.koldinghus.dk
And for all who can’t make it to Kolding, the Beyond Icons catalogue is available, for free, on issuu