Saint-Étienne, France – By day and night, Saint-Étienne – an hour’s drive from Lyon – is an infectiously lively place; chalk it up to the fresh mountain air of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Every two years, the city holds a month-long biennale that expresses its own heritage in design and industry with a contemporary, global point of view. It’s the social aspect of design – particularly, how inclusive design should be – that was the driving force behind the curation of this year’s event titled Me, You, Nous.
To begin setting this year’s Biennale Saint-Étienne in motion – the 11th edition in 20 years – principal curator Lisa White first set out by assigning a colour palette to the event: 10 hues, all referential in some way to the theme of ‘creating common ground’ through design. That all-embracing idea is why, to enter the epicentre of the festival at Cité du design, one must first pass through the Gateway to Inclusion designed by Franҫois Dumas (title image). All the colours – from red, to represent China, the selected visiting country, to green, for the local football team – are there.
‘Me, You, Nous is about radical collaboration and inclusion in an age of deep division and individualism – looking beyond ourselves to see the other,’ said White.
During the opening days of the biennale just recently, the biennale’s central hub – Cité du design –became a breeding ground for dialogue: between schoolchildren and designers, trend forecasters and manufacturers, and everyone in between. These five exhibitions worth seeing there paint a collective picture for the future of design.
How can people who don’t know about design at all have the tools to be included in the work?
On 21 March, John Maeda launched his Design in Tech Report 2019 before a bustling audience in Saint Etienne alongside speakers from Google and Automattic. An accompanying exhibition – developed in partnership with the Silicon Valley companies – will remain until the end of the biennale. Design in Tech aims to make computational design widely digestible; the exhibition turns systems like colour, grid, circulation, composition, components and typology into interactive and visually tangible elements. ‘The main question of the exhibition is: How can people who don’t know about design at all have the tools to be included in the work?’ said scenographer Clémence Farrell.
The Systems, not Stuff exhibition focuses on the relationship of design objects to larger issues, not just the design objects themselves. Through five sections of the exhibition (The Colour Spectrum, The Bureau of Inclusion, The Biofactory, The Plastic Theatre and The Machine Shop of the Future), visitors are able to explore how new innovations respond to a variety of social, political and environmental problems. ‘We are moving into an era of systems that will need to be designed to integrate and work among themselves: the technical with the biological with the social with the digital,’ said Lisa White.
Artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Dr. Christina Agapakis of the Boston-based biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks and smell researcher Sissel Tolaas worked together to bring the smell of two extinct flowers back to life, using DNA extracted from specimens housed at Harvard University’s Herbarium. In addition, Ginsberg created digital reconstructions of what the flowers’ original North American landscapes would have looked like pre-colonialization. Inside two glass vitrines, one can momentarily time-travel by smelling what’s been lost for over a century: ‘As an artist, I enjoy the sensation that the human becomes the specimen to experience these two aromas,’ remarked Ginsberg.
At the end of the day, it’s really about the lifestyle we want that will be the direction we head in
Curator: Fan Zhe, Deputy Curator: Lei Si Yin, Scenographer: He Zhiyong
‘Everyone is talking about new technology and material, but at the end of the day, it’s really about the lifestyle we want that will be the direction we head in,’ Mo Jiao, associate professor at Tongji University College of Design and Innovation mused. Équi-libre offers a journey through objects that have had a place in everyday Chinese life past and present. But the exhibition is also very much a panoramic view of what’s to come, presenting a shared vision for China’s future presence in the design world from four UNESCO’s design cities – Shenzen, Shanghai, Wuhan and Beijing.
‘I thought about Stefania as an autonomous enclave – a dynamic platform that didn’t need to be controlled,’ said Olivier Lellouche, the scenographer of the city-within-an-exhibition. Lellouche worked with French and Chinese schools of art and design to create a mutating, living space where all visitors are invited to behave as if they are in a real urban environment. Each day of the exhibition represents one year; every two days, a mini-Biennale is held. There’s no government or rules, but you will be witness to nearly 50 exhibited student projects, and a bevy of Stefaniaites all around Cité du design bearing soccer scarves for their ‘local’ team.
This edition of the Biennale Saint-Étienne will run from 21 March to 22 April 2019. To learn more about the various other exhibitions on show, conferences and meetings throughout the month, visit their site. Frame's coverage was part of a sponsored press trip to the event.