Belgrade Design Week in Abitare, IT

By Valentina Ciuffi, 21.06.2013.

Its director Jovan Jelovac, his wife Vesna Jelovac (a highly active member of the team) and all the organizers are clearly out to generate situations which, outside the unequivocally measured dimension of the lecture format, get those who come to the festival (speakers, clients and journalists alike) to really come together – maybe even through dance or by getting them drunk yet again on Rakija. Yes, seriously. And they’re not being frivolous or just silly: it’s one way, among many, of getting people to “let their hair down” and talk uninhibitedly about their life, their work. And it does indeed work. And if shaking up the rules of proxemics (those typically associated with the climate of a conference) can be effective in all the moments and situations surrounding lectures, this year it was the human body, and its relationship with technology that went centre-stage, involved as it was in numerous projects by numerous designers, who have found new ways of examining it and incorporating it into their work. 1,500 people tested Clemens Weisshaar’s R18 ULTRA CHAIR at the Milan Furniture Show in 2012: getting people to sit and swing on the chair helped the designers to assess its properties and perfect the design, but they also learned a lot from the heat and tension emanating from the sitter’s body that turned into color and actual shapes. These were compared with everything which unconsciously, naturally, ran through them.

With less technical, less functional aims, but using a process that was in some ways similar, Daan Roosegaarde presented a series of weird and wonderful garments that become more or less transparent as they react to the heartbeat of the wearer. In this way Intimacy2, brings out onto the surface the inner workings of the human body, or at least the way in which our involuntary bodily processes express them. And it is in this way that the space of an interaction is conditioned by a rhythm which goes from being hidden to being evident and reveals something new about the speaker. For Daan, the big difference between the days of the invention of old prostheses, like wheels that allowed human limbs to make new movements, lies in the fact that technology today is an all-pervasive entity, sometimes disconcerting in its supposed independence from man, and needs to be brought back to the human body, redesigned as a second skin, or, indeed, as a garment you wear.

Oskar Zieta gives his take on the human body with an image, a metaphor which, surprisingly, is not in the least naughty or scurrilous. For years he has studied new technologies that can be used to create objects of various kinds – stools, tables, sculptures – by inflating metal “sheaths”. To the amazement of his audience, but with great natural spontaneity, he compared this process to a male erection, unapologetically breaking through a taboo by presenting the bodily movement in question in diagram form on the screen behind him.

Inside a fine museum that has been unused for years, one of those pieces of architecture which, especially on the top floor (not used for the Festival’s installations) speaks like a body, maybe a bit old and decrepit, which opens up gashes that reveal its skeleton and stratified limbs. If Innovation2, innovation squared, is the title the festival decided to give itself this year, in this eighth edition, more so than ever, design appears to be busy investigating technological evolution in relation to our position, our physical position in connection with it.

With Clemens Weisshaar on the top floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade (unused for the last 7 years) where Belgrade Design Week was held. Studios like KRAAM/WEISSHAAR and Roosegaarde have (quite naturally, and fortunately for them) abandoned the difficult and increasingly taxing path of industrial design in its more traditional sense and are heading rapidly towards “interactive design” (in a process that involves a certain degree of de-materialisation). And if Clemens tells me that 90% of his communication with friends now happens on Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, and that there would be no point his house having a living-room or other space for people to get together in, because all interaction with the people he wants to meet takes place in hotel lobbies or at festival locations, the message conveyed by his design work seems incredibly attentive to the position assumed by an interactive, sensorially hyper-stimulated body. If there is no longer any point designing things like tables, chairs and cupboards, their place having been taken by self-tracking designer devices, the space between new design objects and the human body also needs to be recalibrated. In this context, it seems that some very different experiments are being carried out – some more successful or more appropriate than others – but ones that can result in the creation of future scenarios unthinkable just a few years ago which, in making new (direct) contact with the skin, seek to find a new equilibrium. Belgrade Design Week was the ideal place to explain the significance of these explorations and where they might lead.