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Un- named Design, exhibition at Gwangju design biennale, Korea 2011, a review

The theme of the 2011 Gwangju design biennale 2011 is ‘design is design is not design’, exploring the shifting networks of global world, the movement of wealth and production, the emergence of new media, and the changing values of local and global communities readdressing certain issues, problems and the potential of design.”[1]

The exhibition’s artistic directors were Ai Weiwei and Seung H-sang, and it was curated by Brendan McGetrick. The exhibition was broadly divided into five themes; named design, un-named design, communities, biennale city, and Gwangju follies.

The exhibition questions the contemporary definitions of design. It brings forward examples of how design alters perceptions, while challenging the current myth of a designer. It does this by presenting projects, based on design, which were chosen via a survey of design projects from all over the world. This survey accepted entries that spanned various cultures and classes. It proposes that the biennale is an inclusive platform, instead of the exclusive platform that western design has now become. The goal of the exhibition is to reframe design as a set of utilitarian solutions to various needs, rejecting eco- driven subjective aesthetics and consumerism.

 “Ours is an exhibition about the power of ideas, a salvo in honour of millions of acts of imagination that occur outside the limits of ‘design’.”[2]

 Brendan McGetrick, the curator, describes his approach to explain the design process, as being through deconstruction. Deconstruction, in this context, means taking a finished object apart to understand the considerations and decisions that produced it. The process of taking the object apart also reveals its individual components, which can be independently studied and can be seen to have a value of their own. For the format for the exhibition, the concept of a newspaper was adopted. Eight sub-categories were arrived at, based on surveys of various newspapers around the world, for the most frequently occurring titles. Exhibits were: six pieces in Politics, seven in Money; fifteen in Body, five in Culture; five in Home, seven in Environment; nine in Science, two in Sports.

With this outline, interviews, transcribed and edited videos, models and illustrations were worked upon to provide supporting material for the exhibition. As the subject matter was out of the ordinary, the display techniques were kept simple and basic – wall prints, monitors, cases and pedestals. The gallery furniture was designed in the same simple and functional tone with a limited palette of materials.

Swizz Bank Dress Code. Image courtesy Gwangju Design Biennale

This is an exhibition where the objects chosen to be displayed were not based on marketable profits, or their popularity and acceptance by the public. The format is uncluttered with clear supporting videos and commentary that bring forth the motivations and methods of working in the various projects displayed. The projects chosen are thought provoking, (biotechnology project; a macaque that was made to glow in the dark by introducing a fluorescent hormone into it as an embryo) they draw our attention to design outside the conventional fields of design, questioning the ethics and aesthetic issues behind such ideas. It communicates clearly that design extends well beyond the physical, to include intellectual creations of all kinds. Also that design is a generative impulse, found in software, political strategy as well as biochemistry and other fields, and that we need to encourage more multi-disciplinary design. The exhibition set out to provoke the audience; to think of how their lives are being changed by design, to challenge the myth of the designer and to deconstruct the design process itself. It succeeds in doing all of the above. 

Body Design. Image courtesy Designboom

for more image visit

[1] Brendan Mcqetrick, ‘Ai Weiwei: Un-named design’ in Designboom < >[accessed 02/06/12]

[2] Brendan Mcqetrick, ‘Ai Weiwei: Un-named design’ in Designboom < >[accessed 02/06/12]

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