Gwangju Design Biennale 2011

Design is design not design.

What was design? Design was the nineteenth-century child of Western art, architecture, and the crafts. It centred on the creation of industrially produced, mobile objects that moved freely within the global market. The designed object functioned as the aesthetic, technological, and economic focal point of the 20th century. As its movement provided the fulcrum of monumental shifts in power and imagination, it was the symbol, image, tool, and agent par excellence of modernity.

What is design? The world is changing and so is design. The shifting networks and nodes of the global world, the movement of wealth and production, the emergence of new media, the changing values of local and global communities have refocused the issues, problems, and potential of design. Design can no longer be viewed as a privileged hegemony of a limited set of names, objects, forms and modes of production based on an increasingly outdated world view. We must understand design as a fundamental act of intervening in the way we live.

Inspired by the first words of Do Duk Kyeong (Tao Te Ching, 道德經), the 4th Gwangu Design Biennale seeks to (re)place and (re)name the fundamental issues of contemporary design. The title of the Biennale adopts but replaces 道(do) with 圖(do) in No Ja’s first sentence. The Chinese character 圖 (do) means to draw. It was once used to denote design as a formal practice, similar to the notion of disegno and dessin. We are reminded that the more fundamental meaning of 圖 was to design a city on a piece of paper: that is, to create complex human environments within the frame of a specific medium. 圖 was an issue of place and human relations. The Gwangju Design Biennale confirms that we are in the midst of a fundamental transformation of design; of who designs; of how we design; for whom we design; and why we design. Indeed, we must again ask “What is design?”

Moving beyond the established distinctions of the design industry, the 4th Gwangu Design Biennale examines the status of authorship and discipline, space and place, community and individuality in contemporary design. If the mobile object had seemingly negated the conditions of space and place, the new imperative of design is to confront them with renewed rigour. In a hyper-mediated society, where we are and how we identify and interact with our environment are again the basic questions. The 4th Gwangju Design Biennale is a laboratory of the names, places, and communities of contemporary design. It is a laboratory that explores the dynamic of design that is placed and un-placed, design that is named and un-named, and the communities that are woven through these relations. The exhibition is conceived as an ecology that reflects the complexity of contemporary conditions and allows for new and unexpected concepts, practices, and social relations.


  • Seung H-Sang has completed Paju Book City project in Korea, and he has gained international recognitions through projects like Guggenheim Pavilion in Abu Dhabi, Chao-Wei SOHO project in Beijing as well as Korea DMZ Peace-Life Valley, the graveyard of late former President Roh Moo-hyun and Commune by the Great Wall in Beijing. He served as a commissioner of Korean Pavilion for Venice Architecture Biennale in 2008. He has established and operated the architectural firm, Iroje since 1989.
  • Ai Weiwei is influential artist, curator, social commentator and activist. His ground-breaking work, Sunflower Seeds, was recently presented at the Tate Modern Turbine Hall. The work consisted of 100 million porcelain seeds, each individually hand painted by 1,600 Chinese artisans. Ai’s work has been exhibited in Venice Biennale, Kassel Documenta, Guangzhou Triennial, Sydney Biennale and many other institutions. He has also participated in Beijing Olympic Stadium project modelled after the bird nest designed by the Swiss architects, Herzog & De Meuron.
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