Design 06

Paula Antonelli and Konstantin Grcic Foto: Katharina Gossow
Paula Antonelli and Konstantin Grcic Foto: Katharina Gossow

A conference about time and design raised questions about the cultural value of the discipline

In October, the Vienna University of Applied Arts held a conference about time and design. Called Design 06, the event hosted an impressive line-up of speakers including designers Konstantin Grcic, Martino Gamper, Jerszy Seymour and Patricia Urquiola, and curators Paola Antonelli (MoMA), Guta Moura Guedes (Experimenta) and Didier Krzentowski (Gallery Kreo), along with manufacturers, writers and professors.

The one-and-a-half-day conference, which took ZeitZonen (Time Zones) as its theme, focused on product, industrial and furniture design. More than 400 people attended the 36 “conversations” by more than 30 speakers in three colour-coded rooms. Talks started simultaneously in each room, lasting 50 minutes, meaning it was possible to attend no more than 12. Session titles included “No Time to Think”, “Time is Money” and “It’s About time!”, as well as “The Great Passion” and “The Network Era”.

No visual aids or podium lights were used. These were not “talks” but conversations. The speakers hopped from one room to the next, and either sat on stage – most took part in more than one round during the conference – or asked engaging questions from the floor. The audience was concentrated, and the dialogues often intimate. The only obstacle to the circulation of attendants and speakers was that a third of the talks were in German, to cater for the local population and students.

Most of the 12 conversations I attended revolved around the cultural value of design, rather than anything specific to time. With regard to its practitioners’ role, Grcic said “a design elite – an ‘inner circle’ – is necessary to push ideas forward”, and Seymour asked, “with production shifting from Europe to China and consumption shifting from Europe to Russia, where will the cultural focus of design shift to?” It was also argued that design must boost its public recognition through exhibitions, collections and the media, with Antonelli citing the absence of real criticism and observing that generally “design is treated as fluff and pushed to the style sections of newspapers”.

Another recurring topic was design’s relationship with art. Pierre Staudenmeyer, from Galerie Mouvements Modernes, said “art is simpler to collect than design, as for design you have to use your brain and not just your emotions”.

One of the more controversial statements came from Designbrussels art director Max Borka, who claimed: “Design, by nature, is an enemy of time. It is a defender of loss of memory, of timelessness, of eternal youth translated into objects.”

Design 06 showed that academia can be a popular forum for debate, and that the way to get the broadest and most rewarding analysis is to gather participants from every facet of the discipline.

Design 06: ZeitZonen took place on 9-10 October at Vienna University of Applied Arts

Originally published in the December 2006 issue of icon magazine. Antonelli’s remark made me want to start writing, both regularly and professionally, on design.