by Zohra KhanMar 05, 2021
Now in its fifth consecutive year, Melbourne Design Week has cemented its presence in global design calendars. The 2021 festival is the largest and most ambitious version yet. In addition to having a strong digital presence, for the first time ever, the physical exhibition expands into East Gippsland. Featuring a collection of events in Lakes Entrance and Lake Tyers, audiences will be introduced to sites around the lakes district through a series of walks, tours, talks, kayak and boat trips. Melbourne Design Week is conceptualised as a celebration of the diversity of Australian design and architecture.
In a conversation with the STIR team, Timothy Moore, one of the curators of Melbourne Design Week, took us through the many facets of the festival.
STIR: Melbourne Design Week (MDW) is quite widespread, both geographically and in its content. How does all of this come together?
Timothy Moore (TM): It is very reflective of the design ecology in Melbourne. We try being very inclusive in that as we include all the different facets of design, from emerging (designers) to professionals we want to step everyone up. It is also very mindful of the fact that a lot of people experience design in very different ways, depending on their own influences. Half of our audience is the general public and half are design professionals. Lots of people have different experience.
STIR: Could you tell us a bit more about this year’s theme?
TM: I guess what is really important about Melbourne Design Week is that it is idea-driven. That’s what makes the programme unique to many other design weeks in the world. They often forefront the design week as a marketplace. Ideas need a place to experiment. Each year we have a theme that is proliferation for the designers. The theme for 2021 is ‘Design the world that you want’, and it comes from the need to come together and celebrate. So, we thought it is a perfect opportunity to provoke designers to think about the future world that they want.
STIR: In addition to the larger theme, the three pillars of the curatorial programme - care, community and climate - are very interesting and topical. Could you elaborate on how these correspond with the overall theme?
TM: ‘Design the world you want’ is quite a broad theme and it is meant to inspire the imagination but then to shape it we had the three pillars underneath it. Though these are universal ideas, Design Week is an aggregate or a reflection of what the design industry is already talking about in Melbourne and Australia. Climate is one of the great moral challenges of our time. So, we are interested in seeing how designers are facing climate change and what they are doing in and to the supply chain to reconfigure materials to secular economy to innovation in architecture.
One thing that is very important is care. Sometimes we need a sensory hug or virtual hug. We were originally thinking care in terms of medical care and health care. The feedback we got was that, what really matters beyond that is empathy. And empathy towards other people and stakeholders that are involved in the design process and beyond that including flora and fauna. So, it is not about caring only for humans but also caring about others with a less human-centric approach to design, which also fits in with climate.
The other pillar is community, which is really about understanding that design is about collaboration. It is about working with others, but it is also about solidarity with other designers, other makers. So that is how we can cross these three. I should say showrooms are also involved in the Design Week. It is not about selling a product, it is not a commercial enterprise, it is free to enter Design Week, you just have to respond to the provocation. You see people pitching their products on the topic, which is very exciting for me. It is the issue rather than the object that is in the foreground.
STIR: One of the series that stood out was A New Normal. Could you elaborate on that?
TM: That’s led by Finding Infinity, he is an engineer, and is one of the 15 Australian architects and designers. They each have an installation within an empty building. This building is going to be demolished soon so there is an opportunity for the architects and the designers to take over this building. They looked at different ideas around the world to see how they could scale this up in Melbourne and Victoria. Sometimes it is looking at simple ideas of converting gas/petrol cars to electric cars. What’s important here is that we all know these ideas exist but we haven’t done anything about it. The answer from Finding Infinity is that we need to inspire people towards change for connecting science and design to culture and the arts. A lot of the installations have led to a cultural change. Culture is rituals and traditions that we share as people. They are interested in how we can transform culture through these installations. It is probably one of the main events of Design Week.
(The 2021 Melbourne Design Week Award, presented by Mercedes-Benz, has been awarded to A New Normal. This announcement was made after our interview had concluded.)
STIR: Last January, what felt like the worst thing that could have happened was the Australian Bush Fires, and then of course the year just got worse. With care, community and climate, is there a specific exhibition or talk that would be discussing that?
TM: Yes, during the Design Week last year, which was just after the bushfires and just before the pandemic.. The bush fires affected people involved in the Design Week coming from Victoria because they were too busy trying to return to normal life. This affected participation of some people. In Gippsland, there will be an exhibition on bushfire recovery. University studio went out there and has been working with locals to understand what the local community needs and wants. It is very important from the ground that it is led by the local community. Resources are different for them. The architects were responding to them rather than designing buildings or manuals and other types of things to help the community. That’s the only event that looks at that. I mean what crises do we want to deal with. There is a crisis after crisis. There is a housing affordability crisis. There are just so many crises. Bushfires are just one among the series of crises. Question is how do we think more system thinking and how do we connect these issues together. This opportunity allows us to collaborate and build solidarity. Design has the potential to think about the big picture and contribute to solving problems. Hopefully, during Design Week we will illustrate the potential spectrum of how design can intersect between different challenges and contribute to solving problems. Whether it is a bush fire or a communications campaign around propaganda. We just want to show what design can do.
STIR: That is true, which crisis do you want to refer first. It sounds strange to focus on one when there is a system issue.
TM: It can be overwhelming. That can get quite difficult for the general public. I think designers are narrowing down to a particular part of the supply chain or particular material that they use or a particular local geography or context.
STIR: For you as a curator, where does the design end and art begin? It is a very fluid definition especially now but is there a distinction in the way you address it?
TM: I don’t like to think in binaries. I think it is a trick question for me rather than what is the issue than what is the discipline. The training, the references and the language. I trained as an architect. I am a director from the architecture office. We have different references, different toolsets and different methodologies in how we approach the world. Designers are speculative and trying to crossover but for me the application in solving an idea is what I am interested in. I don’t think that defines design. I think that defines my own curatorial sense of how I see design. In my personal opinion, the answer for me is different references, different methodologies, different training, it is what separates us in the end.
Presented by Creative Victoria in partnership with the National Gallery of Victoria, the festival features 11 days of more than 300 exhibitions, talks, films, tours and workshops across Victoria and online. Melbourne Design Week runs from March 26-April 5, 2021. Explore the full programme online at designweek.melbourne.