Provocateurs Ran Wild

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words Daniel West

Provocateurs ran wild at the Experimenta Design biennale, which this year was held in Amsterdam instead of its regular home, Lisbon. Debates were interrupted, public spaces were seized and the red light district was invaded by designers. Objects and installations became engulfed by furious discourse during the opening weekend of the event.

Dutch collective Droog was behind much of the mischief. Its headquarters were plastered with instructions for guerrilla gardening, Google Maps activism and flash-mobbing. These strategies were enacted throughout Amsterdam as "interventions" by the likes of New York-based graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister and Catalonian Marti Guixé. Sagmeister made a pavement mural with coins and Guixé invited the public to collaboratively sculpt a giant pile of bricks. These open-source projects weren't without their problems though. All 250,000 coins in Sagmeister's piece were swept up by the police, who feared they were being stolen, and faces carved into Guixé's block were vandalised within hours.

Experimenta's most progressive work proposed alternative futures rather than mere urban titillation. OMA partner Reinier de Graaf spoke about the practice's Dubai Renaissance tower and its challenge to the "monotony of the exceptional" in the Middle East. His mock postage stamp of the skyscraper lampooned statement architecture, while showcasing its 9/11-referencing, warped facade.

At the exhibition Come To My Place, eight designers from four continents showed designs reflecting their nations. Meriç Kara wittily reworked a commonplace Turkish carpet into a subtle celebration of sexuality. Maxim Velcovsky's Bistro Prague installation filled a room with various found objects that he saw as representative of Czech design.

Amsterdam pushed Experimenta Design to engage with socio-political issues further than its previous home Lisbon, and the two cities will now alternately host the biennale. Hopefully the next outing will build on its engaging criticality.

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