London's first Design Biennale has descended upon us

We have waited, and waited long enough! The Design Biennale has finally arrived in central London in a mere three week period during September 2016, in the Neoclassical Somerset House by the River Thames.

London Design Biennale held at Somerset House this year

London Design Biennale held at Somerset House this year

To mark this commemorative moment, 37 countries have responded in various engaging exhibitions and installations to the theme ‘Utopia by Design’ chosen by the director Dr. Christopher Turner, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the inspirational publication of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.

So what is so significant about More’s Utopia you ask? It is a neologism meaning both ‘good place’ and ‘no place’, it is a fictitious island with 54 near identical cities that are described as a triumph of design. A perfect world that does not exist, but provokes the mind to envision a dream.

India's colourful 'Chakraview'

India's colourful 'Chakraview'

There were several impressive installations that caught our attention, to name a few that transported you into another part of the world were India’s ‘Chakraview’, which envelops you in a range of colourful contemporary textiles using traditional weaving methods in circular disks.

Stepping outside by the River Thames, you are as close to Lebanon’s bustling street life in Bierut as you can get in London, with a small lounge cinema, to a wet shave at the barber shop, smoke a Shisha to authentic falafel wraps and fresh juices. Definitely an atmospheric place to take a break from all the walking around!

Turkey creates an eternal space of mirrors where ‘The Wish Machine’ will transport your hopes, wishes, visions of utopia and aspirations of the future vacuumed around the building and into the unknown.

Just as Austria realizes that Utopia is an impossible ideal, installing an interactive 'LeveL' kinetic light sculpture that will dim at the slightest movement created by the visitor passing through.

With new advanced virtual-reality technology, Spain had us dive into the future 100 years from now using the ‘VR Polis’, exploring a smart-city of a sustainable urban-living, allowing us to interact and discover the possible strategies for the future.

On a more concerning issue, Mexico proposes a ‘Border City’ as it proposes an ambitious solution to emigration, production and population growth. By building an adaptable system for this bi-national city, expressed in the form of a large-scale model, enhanced with video mapping and audio-visual effects.

In the child’s utopia (or the inner child in us), South Africa has designed several hanging ferocious animal mobiles that is ludicrously inviting as you want to snuggle into the cosy, soft fur in the mouths of these animals. They are handcrafted by locals; expressing traditions, craft and heritage.

For some others, ‘Eatopia’ might have won some hearts over, food, is always something that brings people together, Taiwan brings a unique culinary experience that explores its contemporary culture through beautifully curated dishes to amuse your taste-buds.

Somerset House actually homes a permanent exhibition in the ‘Utopia Treasury’, which includes a library of Utopian themed literature. Talks were also held in this area where each of the countries had a presentation on their outtake of Utopia. So if you’ve missed the ‘Utopia by Design’, make sure you visit here instead!

The 'design your Utopia' corner by visitors in the Utopian Treasury

The 'design your Utopia' corner by visitors in the Utopian Treasury

By the end of the day, you are most likely to have enjoyed being overwhelmed by all these intriguing and inspiring exhibits, it leads you hoping that some of these ideas can really put us a step closer to Utopia, and possibly solve the current problems in migration, pollution, sustainability, cities and social equality. Now, we shall just patiently wait for the next Biennale in two years’ time and let it continue to inspire us as designers.

Participating countries include: Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Shenzhen, Croatia, Cuba, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, United States of America.

Sunday Walk: Newport Street Gallery

Newport Street Gallery, located in Vauxhall, south London, is the perfect place to spend your Sunday. It's just 30 mins far from Oxford street, taking Victoria line and getting off at Vauxhall station, then enjoy the walk through Vauxhall Pleasure Garden. Exhibitions vary between solo and group shows from Damien Hirst's art collection. And admission to the gallery is FREE!

Designed by architects Caruso St John, the gallery spans 37,000 square feet and includes six exhibition spaces

Designed by architects Caruso St John, the gallery spans 37,000 square feet and includes six exhibition spaces

The construction of the Gallery involved the conversion of three listed buildings, which were purpose-built in 1913 to serve as scenery painting studios for the booming Victorian theatre industry in London's West End. With the addition of two new buildings, the gallery now spans half the length of the street. 

The current exhibition 'Now' is the first major UK exhibition to be devoted to the artist since ‘Jeff Koons: Popeye Series’, at the Serpentine Gallery in 2009. Jeff Koons is widely considered to be one of the most significant artists to have emerged in the postwar era. 

One of his first experiments with readymades, Inflatable Flower (Short White, Tall Purple) (1979) is displayed in Gallery 1. Alongside, there is a number of his iconic Hoover sculptures, part of The New series (1980–1983). The inflatable then became one of Koons's most persistent themes.

Balloon Monkey (Blue) (2006-2013) is displayed in Gallery 2. Its exterior is highly reflective as Koons has since evolved his fabrication process having spent years of research developing cutting-edge technology for his monumental stainless sculptures.

Balloon Monkey (Blue) 2006-2013, Mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent colour coating.

Balloon Monkey (Blue) 2006-2013, Mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent colour coating.

The 'Made in Heaven' series, created from 1989 to 1991, are displayed in Gallery 3 (No Photo allowed in this section). The series includes life-size sculptures and large-scale images of Koons and Ilona Staller, his then wife, in a variety of erotic scenes. 

Three Ball 50/50 Tank (Spalding Dr. JK Silver Series) (1985) is featured in Gallery 4. The glass tank with basketballs either floating or suspended in water in perfect equilibrium. There are also Jim Beam - J.B. Turner Train (1986) from 'Luxury and Degradation' series, an Italian Woman (1986) from 'Statuary' series, and the statue of a pedlar, Kiepenkerl (1987), which are displayed in this section.

Gallery 5 features three sculptures from the 'Popeye' series. The inflatable pool toys that interact with readymade objects in Acrobat (2003-2009), Seal Walrus (Chairs) (2003-2009), and Sling Hook (2007-2009) are  designed to fool the eye. They look like vinyl but made of aluminium and painted to appear exactly like the real thing. So better don't trust everything you see :P

Play-Doh (1994-2014), from Koons's on-going 'Celebration' series, is displayed in Gallery 6. It faithfully reproduces - at mountainous size - a small lump of modelling clay fashioned by Koons's young son. The twenty-seven individual pieces are cast in aluminium - YES ALUMINIUM! - and held together simply by their own weight. It encompasses some of the most technically challenging works in his career. Alongside, equally evocative of childhood, the illusory Elephant (2003) and Titi (2004-2009) appear to be fragile, air-filled inflatables, but actually made of stainless steel that mirrors the viewers. As Duchamp believed, and Koons paraphrases. "The viewers always finish the work of art, so they always have the boat word." 

After taking a walk, if you're hungry, stop by at Pharmacy 2 which is Damien Hirst’s new restaurant in collaboration with Mark Hix. Not only serves the quality food made from fresh ingredients, it also gives visitors the opportunity to view some of Hirst’s own art. It features work from some of the artist's most iconic series including the Medicine Cabinets and butterfly Kaleidoscope paintings.

Newport Street Gallery is worth checking out, don't you think?