ai weiwei: un named design ai weiwei: un named design
oct 19, 2011

ai weiwei: un named design

‘un-named design’ exhibition at gwangju design biennale 2011 image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

the theme of the 2011 gwangju design biennale is ‘design is design is not design’, exploring the shifting networks of the 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.

this fourth design biennale held within the sixth largest city in korea, sees contemporary chinese artist ai weiwei and korean architect seung H-sang as its artistic directors, who have divided this edition into six main exhibitions: thematic; named design; un-named design; communities; biennale city; and gwangju follies.

ai weiwei: un named design ‘wildlife DNA barcode’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

in his role as artistic director, ai weiwei has co-curated the exhibition ‘un-named’ with independent writer, editor and designer brendan mcgetrick. this thematic exhibition is a survey of design projects which question the contemporary definition of design and challenging the myth of the designer. it does not focus on aesthetics, but rather looks at how design alters perceptions, reinvents and reveals hidden truths through ecology, fashion, healthcare, military, politics, science and technology …

‘wildlife DNA barcode’

‘as humankind enters the second decade of a new century, it is increasingly obvious that the standard means of describing our world are no longer adequate. the words and values engrained in our books and magazines, in film and online, are unable to accurately describe the forces shaping our lives. if we are to make the most of the present and think more intelligently about the future, we first need to refresh our language. to begin this process, we propose a radical reevaluation of ‘design’.

in europe, the idea of design is well established but poorly understood. over the past century it has been repeatedly altered to reflect changes in the political climate, elite preferences, or popular mood. in its current form, design projects the values of the free market. t is a vague amalgamation of clothes, home furnishings, personal hygiene, art, antiques, and user interfaces. it is western-centric, commodity-driven, and wealth-dependent. it is hugely influential – much copied and frequently referenced – but it somehow loses depth with each incarnation.

in asia, the notion of design is newer. its status remains unclear and its limits are undefined. we propose that the 2011 gwangju design biennale seizes this ambiguity as source of strength. where in the west design is a often tool for exclusion, in gwangju it can be inclusive, accepting contributors from across cultures and classes. rather than proposing a single, globalized template for the world to follow, at the biennale design will become a codeword for the invention of new forms of difference – new slang, new relationships, new organisms, new religions.

as its name suggests, un-named design challenges the myth of the designer. the exhibition backgrounds issues of authorship in order to focus on effects – the ways in which design alters perceptions, reinvents, and reveals hidden truths. it expands the boundaries of design to include fields such as bioengineering, virtual communication, capital punishment, pre-modern technology, and non-violent protest. ours is an exhibition about the power of ideas, a salvo in honor of the millions of acts of imagination that occur outside the limits of ‘design ‘. – brendan mcgetrick

‘low cost prosthetic limb’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

brendan mcgetrick has written an essay on the development of the exhibition’s concept and development in collaboration with ai weiwei, who was being detained for most of the curatorial period leading up to the biennale. the paper covers the thinking and working process behind this theme of ‘un-named’ design, ai weiwei’s role, and how and where design is embedded into our everyday lives. you may read mcgetrick’s full essay here.

‘low cost prosthetic limb’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘low cost prosthetic limb’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘low cost prosthetic limb’

general exhibition view image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘execution design’

‘execution design’

‘execution design’

‘execution design’

‘execution design’

‘execution design’

‘execution design’ on show as part of the ‘un-named design’ exhibition at gwangju design biennale 2011 image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘dresscode UBS’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘dresscode UBS’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘dresscode UBS’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘dresscode UBS’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘athletic body design’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘athletic body design’ image courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

‘athletic body design’

‘athletic body design’

‘athletic body design’ by howard schartz and beverly ornstein

some other alternative exhibition views images courtesy of brendan mcgetrick

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