So Day One was undoubtedly about embracing the process of creating and everything that comes with it. Today, speakers once again made reference to understanding the context of the work you’re creating, but the focus fell heavily on trans-media creatives. People who transcend the normal boundaries we set for what a particular designer should or can do.
The day started with an intimate look at the obsessive collecting habits of Steven Heller. He has single-handedly chronicled the growth of design through more than 150 books on the subject. He freely admits that he’s trying to justify his collecting compulsion by saying that it’s about “understanding what visual code needs to be cracked for successful consumption”. Whether that does the trick in explaining the impressive selection of Mao figurines (above) he’s amassed we’ll leave up to your own collecting urges to judge.
There’s also an element of lifting seemingly “low art” to a higher level. He argues that mass produced porcelain figurines will possibly be revealed as the modern day version of Greek sculpture. And we tend to believe him.
A lot of mention was made today about work growing from passion. Some things are hard to sell to clients as ideas or prototypes, and as Jeanne van Heeswijk pointed out, we have to “commission ourselves”. Heller loves counter culture publishing, because he says they’re all “acts of passion”. The same goes for the logo and menu designs that his wife, Louise Fili creates. She loves food and type, so she’s carved out a niche for herself where she can live these two passions in her daily work. She says that even if you’ve got a full-time job, doing personal work and projects is essential to finding your own voice.
It might’ve been all the passion talk or perhaps just the conviction and bravery of Jeanne van Heeswijk, but her talk was as emotionally stirring as it was a rousing call to arms. “The artist has to decide whom to serve,” she said and it became very clear that she serves the communities that desperately need her help. Through seemingly simple co-opts and working together, she helps some of the most neglected and forgotten communities open a debate on who’s job it actually is to take care of the spaces they inhabit. Inevitably, the answer is that it’s up to each of us, and us as a collective.
She’s brave in her defiance of regulations and norms – suggesting that together a community can come up with better policies than the ones created for us by government, correctly surmising that housing is the battlefield of our time.
Chef Alex Atala spoke beautifully about his evident love for Brazilian food. To him, innovation is creating something surprising. Something you know, but it still surprises you. This idea was echoed by Asif Khan who “discovered” his Cloud Machine while playing with his kids at bath time. By combining helium and bubble bath, he created these magical clouds:
“Sometimes you have a hunch that combining things in a new way will result in something beautiful. And then you just go and try it out. Act on hunches,” was his advice.
Nicholas Hlobo did a performance piece after lunch, leaving everyone absolutely quiet and eyes glued to the stage. It might sound a bit over-the-top, but many delegates described it as a near-spiritual experience. He is undoubtedly one of the most honest, talented and relevant artists we have in South Africa.
What is interesting is that he turned the usual formula of an informally presented collection of ideas on its head. Through hauntingly beautiful music (with him singing) he projected images and text on the screen. These told his story and touched on some of his convictions in such an honest an relatable way, interspersed with imagery of his art. Woven into this visually engrossing tapestry was snippets of meaning and interpretations on both his Xhosa culture and his art.
Initially he was nowhere to be seen on stage, but he lowered himself down to the stage in a womb or calabash-like shaped shroud – all the while singing. Essentially, he never spoke a word, yet his was by far the most inspiring and appreciated talk of the day. As a local artist, he surpassed everything that seasoned and internationally acclaimed presenters and public speakers did before – connecting with people on an emotional and intellectual level like no one else has managed to do.
The last speaker of the day confirmed the idea of extending your skills and thoughts to as many different spheres as you can. Thinking broadly, educating yourself and never losing your sense of awe in simple things are some of the qualities that came through in Daan Roosegaarde’s talk. He likes the idea of design scaring people a bit, making them a bit uncomfortable. At the same time he shares Jeanne’s drive for good: “Technology doesn’t have to have an Orwellian effect on our lives. It can be used in a Da Vinci-way, for helping and growing; for good.”
Lastly, all the speakers today acknowledged the fact that they cannot possibly do any of the things that they do alone. Roosegaarde summed it up nicely, saying that artists of today all work together in teams. This principle of collectivity shone through all the talks thus far in Design Indaba. Design and those plying the trade should never be seen as a thing separate from the context of where it will live; the people who’ll interact with it; or the community of experts who could contribute.
We’re geared for the last day of Design Indaba. It promises to be another riveting ride – here’s who we’re looking forward to hearing speak.