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UTOPIAN COLLECTIVE / Croatia at the London Design Biennale / opening: 7th September 2016

For this year’s representation of Croatia at the first London Design Biennale, as the main participants of the project, I have chosen designers whose works have received attention and awards, not just in Croatia, but also abroad, which seemed like an important prerequisite for this context and the Biennale.

To represent Croatia at the London Design Biennale, which is being held for the first time this year, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia and the Croatian Designers Association (HDD) selected a project whose curatorial concept was created by Maša Milovac and a team of associates called the “Utopian Collective”.

This is the first edition of a manifestation that has the ambition of becoming the most representative European exhibition, and not fair, event in the field of design. The London Design Biennale, in partnership with Jaguar, will be held at the Somerset House, from 7th to 27th September 2016, and it will include representatives from 37 countries. The theme of the first biennale is linked to the anniversary of the first edition of the book “Utopia” by Thomas More (1516), so the organizers invited the participants to re-examine, under the common title of “Utopia by Design” and through contemporary design approaches, the topicality of the utopian idea and to address one of the fundamental issues of humanity today. The Biennale will occupy the entirety of Somerset House, including the famous Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court. Situated on the banks of the River Thames in the heart of London, the former royal palace is a world famous cultural centre and is one of London’s most visited attractions with more than 3.2 million visitors in 2015. The curated, three-week long Biennale is an independent event which will overlap the London Design Festival, complementing its citywide programme of commissions and partner events every two years.

The curatorial concept “Utopia by Design” by Maša Milovac and her team of associates called the “Utopian Collective”, selected to represent Croatia at the London Design Biennale, is based on moving away from the expected and familiar. Considering a somewhat outdated format of representation of design within biennial showings that practice selecting some of the best designs with a national tint and keeping in mind the given theme, the “Utopian Collective” was conceived as a non-conventional experimental process with the goal of exploring work of a collective and work in a collective, i.e. the status of what is common, synergic and collaborative, as one of the possible formats of the design practice. This departure stands in contrast to the individualistic practice as an imperative of competitiveness and antagonisation in the consumer society and the neoliberal market environment. The “Utopian Collective” team of designers, comprised of Maja Čule, Hrvoje Hiršl, Maja Kolar, Maša Poljanec, Oleg Šuran, Mauro Massarotto, Mauricio Ferlin and Hrvoje Živčić, was assembled for the purposes of this presentation which makes this their first joint collaboration.

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In the exhibition space we witness several different layers of “reading” that are the direct consequence of the development phases of the work process. The first element, basic in character, represents “common ground”, shaped as a proto-idea of the world, a two-dimensional “globe”, the unifying idea of a circle. The second layer consists of three-dimensional objects, “keepers of emptiness”, certain vessels originating from the development process of the collective’s expression language. The third element of the whole is the sound that gives this environment a time dimension and through the spoken word coveys key elements of synergy, but also the specificities of the individuals’ attitudes, a narrative resulting from the dialogue between designers, the members of the “Utopian Collective”.

What is utopian in a collective?

The story of biennales has turned in favour of designers and their work, and they are no longer seen as places of valorisation and gradation of success of the designers’ work in some field, but rather new creative output is encouraged (even conditioned), which in a careless scenario can lead to “on topic” hyper-production without fundamental analysis or an attempt to change the work method.

Somewhere in there, the London Design Biennale is looking for its own place and it is being held for the first time this year. With the already multiply cited and very important subject of “Utopia in Design”, they do not hide their aspirations of questioning the role of designers in society, their responsibility, influence, innovation and importance in the context of developing the society, a new economy, a value system. However, it is nevertheless important to ask ourselves why is this subject important to us? Among other things, it is important to participate in the framing of this issue.

For this year’s representation of Croatia at the first London Design Biennale, as the main participants of the project, I have chosen designers whose works have received attention and awards, not just in Croatia, but also abroad, which seemed like an important prerequisite for this context and the Biennale. They are unique in their artistic expression and they also deal with relevant subjects – designers that see much more in the very process of exploration than in the solution itself, that valorise and represent exploring in new ways; a designer who has made his career as a designer of glasses; a designer of interactions and visual communications with an interest for speculative design; a designer, researcher and artist; a typography designer; a designer and visual artist that deals with questioning contemporary ways of presentation. Important for the concept was this very heterogeneity, not an affiliation to a single field in their design work, but primarily the openness and readiness for exploration.

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Taken from the text of curator Maša Milovac.

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