SWITZERLAND LONDON DESIGN BIENNALE
Against perception of the neutral as the hidden, static or indifferent, ‘In-between: The Utopia of the Neutral’ embraces the opportunity to build upon Switzerland’s shared cultural environment and advance into an experimental space for collaboration, where the neutral – a fundamental utopian space where fiction and reality are allowed to play out against each other – is explored as a catalyst for dialogue and engagement. The approach interprets the Biennale’s theme ‘utopia by design’ by questioning to what extent utopia can speak to us without being merely a displacement of reality or an escape to a distant world. It questions the potential of the neutral in times where our very ability to endure uncertainty is put to the test.
To investigate the creative potential of the neutral, the project has opened up a field of enquiry between design and specialised industry sectors that are concerned with material advances, steady optimisation and expansion of qualities such as resilience, precision, speed, and the constant improvement of processing and manufacturing systems. The assumption that complicity with such deep knowledge fields can be productive lies in the unconditional nature of the ‘neutral’ figure. It attempts to bridge the emergence of gaps arising between these seemingly disparate fields to explore the interfaces between different ways of working and thus sharpen our perception of design as a catalyst for change.
From a design historical perspective, the collaborative approach hints at Max Bill’s modernist utopia of the ‘Gute Form’ – a design movement from the 1960s that prescribed a set of criteria for collaboration between industry and design that were to establish ‘a harmonious balance’ between form and function. Bill’s functionalistic principle harnessed the advancement of industrial technology as an important element in societal development while addressing consumerism, the role of taste and the perception of quality and economic value. His view promoted a design language that was to endure by being discreet, simple and low-key, without ‘useless decoration’, turning objects of ‘straightforward construction’ into ‘consciously’ beautiful objects. While the functionalistic foundation of the ‘Gute Form Utopia’ continues to make useful design affordable for the many; today’s perspective of the ‘good form’ ideal begs for a more dynamic and less arbitrary representation of what design can do to shape our future.
The works in the exhibition exemplify this mindset. By engaging and freely interpreting the fields of industrial expertise as springboards for visioning, they revisit the social and connective purpose of design. Isolated, adopted or reconfigured materials ideas move freely within a neutral grid. They question the value embedded in everyday objects and speculate between common, preconceived and unknown notions of utility. Each idea presented for the exhibition is a seed representing scalable propositions with the potential to expand. These objects act as tools, as moments of wonder, waiting to be completed by the users’ imagination. The Utopia of the Neutral never creates certainty, rather movement and fluidity, allowing processes and fragments to exist, probing a fluid, mutable and arguably neutral agency of design.
The process of collaboration which took place for ‘In-between: The Utopia of the Neutral’ revealed unmet potential for links between design and specialised knowledge fields. At the same time it exposed contradictions arising when working outside established systems that today undermine the desire and ability to tap into a shared space for development, exchange and experiment. Ultimately, ‘In-between: the Utopia of the Neutral’ investigates how cultural identity and proximity can facilitate collaborative networks and the sharing of knowledge as a driving force for personal and collective evolution. The Utopia of the Neutral explores the gaps arising between increasingly isolated silos of knowledge, while setting in motion a process where new alliances, connections and explorations can develop.
“I define the Neutral as that which outplays the paradigm, or rather I call Neutral everything that baffles the paradigm.”
– Roland Barthes