London Design Biennale 2021
Updated: Jun 23
This year edition of the design festival in London puts a spotlight on materiality, racial issues and designing in an age of crisis (Covid-19 pandemic, Environmental Crisis and rise of right-wing populism around the world are often referred to throughout the exhibitions).
Upon entering the Somerset House, on the Thames river embankment in central London, I stumble upon the Forest of Change. It is not just a temporarily setup forest in the palace courtyard. Signposted throughout trees are ideals taken from the UN’s 17 Global Goals which raise awareness of problems such as gender inequality and clean water. At the centre is a circular soundscape, where recorded voices project their hopes for these goals, from ending world hunger to education equality. Visitors can also record their own hopes and have it projected into the forest. Together, these set the stage for the design biennale where projects respond to the 2021 theme, often in an idealistic notion.
Covid-19 pandemic is a strongly prevalent theme of the exhibition. Many of the pavilions also touch on the climate crisis and racial issues exposed by last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. One of the strongest message comes from the Israeli Pavilion with its multi-sensory experience called ‘The Boiler Room’. The red room filled with 2,500 hashtagged boiler switches, that represent the boiling discourse and the tensions between what is global and what is national, and where people from all over the world can interact with each other’s opinions both digitally and personally. While the world has undoubtedly moved towards globalisation, in recent years we have witnessed a re-emergence of efforts to isolate nations and "reignite" a sense of national pride. This has stimulated a resonating, everlasting tension.
This trend has been further accentuated by the recent Covid pandemic and its consequences, where the world has come close to a boiling point. The room addresses the various domains in which social and political issues are spatially intertwined while the Israeli boiler switches themselves serve as a tactile, sensory and visual representation of both global and national everyday life interactions.