/ 22 February 2008

Why design?

It is with glee that the organisers of the Design Indaba 2008 announced on their website that the event has been sold out for the fourth year in a row. Tickets for a ‘young designers” simulcast, however, were available late this week. (Strangely enough young participants include anyone over 25.)

As usual the programme overwhelms one with names of designers that begin to feel familiar only when framed alongside a particular item or brand. For example, the website mentions visiting speaker Bill Moggridge who designed the world’s first laptop; South African Oona Scheepers who has designed interiors for Porsche and Audi; Shunji Yamanaka, acclaimed designer of humanoid robots; Elle Décor founder Ilse Crawford and Ivan Chermayeff, who once designed logos for Mobil and NBC.

Appearing with the 37 invited ‘industry heavyweights” are some heavyweights from home, notably Amanda Laird Cherry, Gavin Rajah and Nkhensani Nkosi, who will participate in a multimedia panel about the direction of local fashion.

As a survival strategy the Design Indaba has expanded to accommodate the interests of diverse sectors and now covers every gamut of the creative experience: graphic design, music, décor, architecture, product design, new media, jewelery, illustration, animation, journalism and business skills.

There are food installations, sound installations and a display by leading, young Czech Republic artist, Maxim Velcovsky, who makes ‘post-Socialist porcelain”.

DJ Spooky from New York is one of this year’s international participants. The turntable activist patches together aural collages that pick at the holes in our social fabric.

Using archival footage with elements from early avant-garde cinema mixed with his own music, his work, New York Is Now, is an exploration of memory. It’s a multimedia digital opera about a city constructed out of improvisations, disjunctions, overlapping histories and multiple rhythms.

The work was created for the Luanda Triennial in 2006, curated by the Angolan artist Fernando Alvim and Laurie Farrell from New York’s Museum of African Art.

This week Spooky told the Mail & Guardian: ‘The whole idea of the project was to look at urban culture and surrealism through film. To explore the way we think about what makes up a city’s ‘essence’.

‘I thought that the Surrealists had borrowed a decent amount from Africa and Afro-Diaspora culture and the piece reflected that. Design Indaba seemed to be a great place to explore some of the issues the piece reflects. The installation was presented at the Venice Biennial as well, but it was a lot more fun hanging out in Luanda. They have a new style of electronic music called kuduru — check the vibe!”

Last year Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo, MD of Interactive Africa, had the brainwave for 10 designs for low-cost housing to be created by hand-picked local architectural teams, supported by international alumni from previous Design Indaba conferences.

The designs had to fit the parameters of the national department of housing and had to cost no more than R50 000 to build.

Sustainable energy-efficient design, construction and operation techniques were encouraged and all the design principles have been encapsulated in a manual to be presented to the minister of housing, so that they can be added to the low-cost housing database. They will also appear on the Design Indaba website as architectural open source.

Thanks to sponsors Penny Pinchers and PG Bison, 10 units of the first solution, designed by Luyanda Mphalwa and Kirsty Ronne, will be built. The first house will be unveiled at this year’s Design Indaba Expo.

This year’s Design Indaba happens at the Cape Town Convention Centre from February 23 to 29. Visit www.designindaba.com