When Andreia Garcia invited me to curate the Design program of the 2019 Maia Biennial of Contemporary Art, which she was overseeing as chief curator, I was overjoyed for a number of reasons. First, here was an opportunity to work in my home country of Portugal for the first time in ten years; second, it allowed me to stretch the definition of what is design in an event that just incorporated in its program; and finally, it gave me the opportunity to commission new work to some of the most interesting designers working in Portugal and abroad at the moment. I was thrilled to be able to develop new work with AATB, Catarina Carreiras, Orlando Lovell and Pedro Augusto, and had a lot of fun curating the design program of the biennial with Inês Revés. Below an excerpt of the essay detailing the curatorial approach, and more details on each commission after the jump below.
In post-industrial, twenty-first century Europe design is facing a transitional moment. Born with the Industrial Revolution, this discipline experienced a moment of great abundance after the post-war reconstruction boom of the 1950s. The capitalist explosion of the mid-twentieth century brought along the fiction of endless growth. We now know â€“ after the hard consequences of the last two decades â€“ that this was not true. Among financial crises, global warming, the potential failure of the European project and mass layoffs, the context in which the discipline emerged is no longer extant. We face a brave new world in which crisis spread to the point of becoming a quasi-permanent state of affairs, and in which the confrontation of preceding decades will no longer exist. At this moment, we must question all certainties of the last hundred years in order to dream and invent what is yet to come, and to test out a future that we are unable to envision.
In this context, design has met with an impasse, a moment of profound questioning in which the questions that were always answered no longer make sense and the silos of specialization into which it developed are increasingly less relevant. Today, graphic and product design have expanded to encompass other fields and disciplines as new specializations take shape with abstract names such as conceptual design, speculative design, biodesign, social design. Designations aside, what unites these new areas is a sceptical, questioning attitude regarding what design is and what it could be. At the same time, the new ramifications of design are not enclosed in a single disciplinary silo but seek dialogue and mediation with other disciplines – from the social sciences to biology, from economy to literature. This is the advent of a new mentality and new priorities for this disciple: on the one hand, it has realized that its initial objectives are not sustainable; on the other, it recognizes that this is a moment for reinvention and opportunity.
Today, design works with other disciplines as a mediating discipline. It takes on multiple forms and scales, it is visible and invisible, it does not necessarily generate objects or solutions, but interactions, connections and possibilities. Above all, it generates many – if not all – of our interactions with the world, from the technology that we carry in our pockets every day to our relationship with our governments, distribution systems and one another. In doing so, it is a platform for deep experimentation and, most of all, a meeting point.
The Maia Biennial of Contemporary Art’s disciplinary axis of Design also wants to be a meeting point, a stage for sharing, for knowledge, for points of view and modes of producing. In doing so, it carries with it the contemporary reality of design, proposing new ways of making design. Guest participants have all presented new commissions. Two of them manifest formally and occupy the territory with large-scale installations; two other manifest invisibly through interactions with the territory and its inhabitants to generate unexpected unforeseen and multi-sensorial results. All of these are modes of making design; and they are all pathways for contemporary design.