Where once the Berlin Wall met the River Spree and East German soldiers watched over a barren death strip, children now play and trees thrive in the spring sunshine. A stone’s throw away in Arena’s cavernous warehouse space, the recent DMY Youngsters exhibition of contemporary design proved that the next generation of creative spirit is just as flourishing. The centrepiece of the new DMY festival, this was less a trade fair than an explosion of ingenuity.
and stools by Oskar Zieta (bottom)
Berlin isn’t Milan, and thankfully it doesn’t try to be. There’s a radical, questioning spirit here which has much more interesting things to do than furnish ski lodges for oligarchs. However with a minimal 60,000 euro contribution from the government, a reliance on commercial sponsors has seen many designers smuggling their vision into the marketplace rather than sneering from the margins. Bombay Sapphire got together with top international names like Tom Dixon and Karim Rashid, while mineral water producer Vöslauer sponsored the Viennese Walking-Chair Design Studio to make a magical, glacial bower out of its empty bottles.
Other designers turned banal materials into new products in similarly ingenious ways. Sponges became lights, tyres became wallets, coat hangers became wall sconces, plastic buckets were transformed into modular storage systems and that humble kindergarten staple the Paddle Pop stick was worked into a dizzying helix. “Less aesthetics more ethics” urged a neon sign above one of the festival venues, but the range of stylish recycling on offer showed you needn’t sacrifice one for the other.
recycled matter form various sculptural screens, lights and room dividers (right)
One of the hits of the festival was Aylin Kayser and Christian Metzner’s IKARUS Wax Lamp, a light fixture which melts under the heat of its bulb and drips down to the floor. As the pieces slowly and elegantly self-destruct, they assume the shape of deadly deep-sea creatures or poisonous mushrooms. While it’s a hypnotic sight, it makes an expensive lighting solution, especially if you forget to move the rug out of the way first…
There were all sorts of ways to interact: one stall offered to iron your money (the logical consequence of money laundering?), the Megapixel Project allowed the public to create their own designs which were instantly displayed on the walls of a plastic pavilion in vivid LED and .ini was lending out its adult-sized tricycles for hooning around the hall. Students from a Potsdam design school invited visitors to write down problems posed by the urban environment, which they then brain-stormed (the unwelcome deposits from Berlin’s many dogs was a recurring complaint).
Local outfit genauso.und.anders° (“exactly the same and different”) showed storage systems with removable acrylic panels in seasonal colours; just the thing to prevent a pre-dawn raid by the design police when that directional orange is suddenly OUT OUT OUT. Some thoughtful interpretations of furniture staples didn’t shout as loudly as others, but in the case of teams like Springpatt, the quality was impossible to ignore.
While DMY has yet to establish itself on the world circuit and doesn’t pretend to offer a global overview, there was a compelling range of international talent. A strong showing from South Korea included Kwon Jae-Min’s graceful table with embedded lamp, whose polished wooden curves alluded to classic mid-century design without quite solving the problem of the unsightly power cord. Nearby a mildly terrifying chair constructed out of bandages and pitchforks seemed to be a narrative of some dire farming mishap. Sitting comfortably?
Berlin’s strategic position attracted a number of Eastern European teams. Poland’s poor solve design problems you never knew you had with wit and flair, with offerings like their easy-assembly chair (or “asstool” as they prefer to call it). Meanwhile Slovakia’s creater_2008 group turned potato peeling into something you might actually want to do.
As the festival wound down it was already being hailed as a hit with critics, international buyers and the general public, so everything points to a re-run in ’09, when we’ll hopefully see some Australians in amongst the global talent.
But for now, there’s only so much of this weapons grade creativity you can take in, to say nothing of the talks, the walking tours, the open studios, the parties and everything else. Time to cool off? As luck would have it, the answer is just outside, as the serene, beautifully designed Badeschiff pool floats on the river, glinting seductively in the afternoon sun. And there you have the essence of Berlin: cool, clever and open to everyone.
Another huge thankyou to James for this fantastic round-up and all the amazing photos.
Some more excellent shots of Berlin DMY O8 can be found at Core 77 here.