As the Cape Town festival dedicated to alternative approaches nears, we pick out the speakers not to miss
Design Indaba Festival, held in Cape Town every February, has championed creativity as a solution to global social, economic and environmental issues ¬since long before it was trendy. A self-described “do tank”, the festival brings together designers in the widest possible sense, from TED-calibre design activists and educators, musicians and performers as part of its Nightscape programme, to those possessing the more expected titles of creative director, film-maker or architect. Quotidian, however, Design Indaba’s speakers not. Since it began in 1995, the festival organisers have a clever knack of selecting individuals that are doing things a bit differently. Whether it’s a practice that challenges the status quo or a business model at odds with conventional wisdom, the opportunities to catch sparks from adjacent disciplines are rife.
This year’s festival looks to continue this trajectory. The three-day conference has a healthy helping of former Icon cover stars: biotech innovator Neri Oxman, design explorers Studio Swine and architect Thomas Heatherwick, whose renovation of a former grain silo to create the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa just a short skip away from Design Indaba’s Artscape venue. Alongside this trio of material investigators ¬(think Swine’s comb collection made from human hair or Oxman’s 3D death masks that visualise the wearer’s last breath), also on this year’s line-up are Londoners product designer Tom Dixon, neon-wielding spatial artist Morag Myerscough and set designer and kinetic sculptor Es Devlin, who won 2017’s London Design Medal and has just been longlisted to design Old Street Roundabout’s new gateway.
Material experimentation as a form of environmental or identity-focused equiry is a big theme for this year’s festival. AtelierNL’s Lonny van Ryswyck, for example, has transformed crowdsourced sand from different geographical locations into glassware in a global co-design project. The line-up for 2018 is also particularly rich in architectural talent. Pritzker Prize winning Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, and former curator of the Venice Biennale, will speak about the new wave of radical building sweeping Latin America, and Ensamble Studio will share a number of projects that harness the natural world to develop architectural forms.
But what Indaba really excels at is championing new talent, giving stage time to early career creatives that other festivals do not. As well as an exhibition of new African talent, called Emerging Creatives, the conference has invited ten of the most intriguing international graduates to share the schedule with the celebs. Icon is most looking forward to hearing from ECAL graduate Ini Archibong, whose experiments in glass wowed us in Milan; fashion designer Aleksandra Gosiewski who is set to disrupt the fashion ecosystem with her research into rapidly renewable bio-based textiles; and Simon Dogger, who has developed the body language recognition app Emotion Whisperer that allows visually impaired people to feel (through vibrations) signals like surprise or happiness – a subject close to Simon’s heart since losing his sight.
Design Indaba runs from 21-24 February at Artscape, Cape Town