Design Of The Times: Pioneering and proudly Polish, The Łódź Design Festival showcases the latest advances in contemporary design
Reaching deep into its artsy soul, for the next ten days Poland’s third city is set to channel the nation’s creative energy through the medium of the globally acclaimed Łódź Design Festival.
Now in its thirteenth year, the annual trade fair has carved a reputation as the most prestigious Polish festival in its genre, whilst its growing international profile is set to receive a further boost with an exhibition by Jaime Hayon, one of the biggest names in contemporary design.
“When the festival first started,” organizer Michał Piernikowski tells TFN, “we had the feeling that people didn’t really know what design was all about, so our first goal was to create a bridge between designers and firms; at the beginning, there were only five companies cooperating with us, so one of the biggest objectives was to educate people about what design could be.”
Presenting various aspects of Polish design – from industrial to graphic, architecture to craft – this was done in those early years by focusing on interesting objects that had been produced in this country. “In essence,” continues Piernikowski, “many of these were small gifts or gadgets and though many were amazing at the time, looking back I think a few were definitely ‘over-designed’.”
This, however, soon stood to change. “After our third year,” says Piernikowski, “we realized we needed to develop a little so rethought what we were presenting – rather than just ‘nice’ things, we actively sought to promote ‘good design’ – while in the last three years we’ve changed the perspective a bit further by delving into the ‘essence of design’ and asking questions, interpreting phenomena and fomenting critical discussion.”
In this, the festival has proved a resounding success. Hailed by titles such as Wallpaper* and Elle, it has become firmly established as one of the city’s calling cards, drawing in excess of 435,000 visitors since its inception and casting a universal spotlight on Łódź. Crucially, it’s surge in popularity has played a key role in the town’s own renaissance as a seething cauldron of hip creativity. Merged with the city’s world class reputation for street art, booming cultural scene and reenergized factory spaces, it has captured the zeitgeist and propelled the city further forward.
“Yes, I think the festival is important for the citizens of Łódź,” says Piernikowski. “It’s a young place with a strong avant-garde streak and active arts scene and this festival has helped connect those fields.”
Beyond that have been several direct benefits. “In some ways,” adds Piernikowski, “you could say that the city has used the festival as something of an ideas lab. For instance, about five years ago we examined how urban transport would change and many of the solutions that were offered then are being implemented now – scooters, for example, are everywhere. By presenting physical products, both the people and the city can see for themselves what kind of topics are important and the kind of answers the design world can give.”
There have been other triumphs, as well. “I’m quite proud that it was us that initiated the discussion on how to combat the influx of billboards,” says Piernikowski, “and the festival has also helped sustain traditional, local artisanal businesses and brought them to the attention of the market.” The value attached to the notion of ‘local’ remains strong to this day, with one exhibition in the current program dedicated to the Łódź dialect. Designed to test the imagination of Polish illustrators, “The Dictionary of Good Łódźianisms” presents twenty-three large-format posters that provide a graphic definition of words and phrases unique to the city.
It is the multi-faceted approach though that has really signalled the festival’s coming of age. Wide in its scope, this year’s highlights include On The Table, a display that explores shared mealtimes and addresses the ritual of eating via ceramics; Ekoeksperymentarium, which aside from offering a look inside an eco-home of a cartoon family, reveals how families can eliminate unnecessary and inefficient elements from their homes; Re:Thing, an exhibition that poses the question as to how many objects must we surround ourselves with before we feel good; and Romantic Regime, a playful, interactive gym that allows visitors to exercise on equipment whose use replicates gestures such as blowing a kiss or giving a hug.
Thought-provoking, ground-breaking and diverse in its depth, the global relevance of the ŁDF has been underscored by the MasqueMask installation created by Jaime Hayon. Drawing on the city’s textile history, the Spanish design legend presents a set of masks woven from yarn that will stare in on people from all sides, each with a different, vivid expression.
“In today’s complicated and ambiguous world,” concludes Piernikowski, “the awareness of the role that objects play in our lives is an element of everyday savoir-vivre, but also, more and more clearly, a survival guide. This year’s edition of the festival will be a time to slow down, breathe and think about what really gives us feelings of happiness, peace, luxury or security. Designers, architects, artists, creators – can they and their creations design a good life for us?”
The answer lies in Łódź.
The Łódź Design Festival runs from May 17th to May 26th. For further information, see: lodzdesign.com