Creative Voice #5 – Real and unreal in the glorifying world of design festivals

This week, DesignDigger presents a daily critical reflection from a designer, critic, or researcher on Dutch Design Week, which starts on Friday. Today, designer and writer Marcos Kueh takes a critical look of what to expect from design festivals. “It’s important to have very elaborate and expensive checkpoints of hopefulness in the annual calendar of this industry.” Marcos is focusing on the design perspective Signature & Collectable Design and the DDW-mission Achieving our Equal Society.

MAISON DE FAUX’s – Timelesstime
FOTO Stephan Velema

The theme of this years Dutch Design Week 2023 is Picture This. It makes you wonder about the idea of a photograph – of how even the innocent act of taking a snapshot is a microsecond, complex decision-making process of what we choose to include and exclude in the limited capacity of a frame. The factory workers in China will never be considered in the frame of an iPhone advertisement. But plus size models, people of color and punks, say cheese!

Google defines the word design as ‘planning’ or a ‘decision’. Just like picture taking, the way a design is realized is also a matter of subjective variables: who makes the design and how these designs are being made. Some photographers decide on a theme – say clowns, plan out mood boards based on contemporary trends and statistics, draft out clear sketches and budgets before heading out to the circuses with a predetermined idea to be executed. Others might approach the craft in a more documentarian practice, where they plan out a trip to take pictures in a free flow manner, reflect on their collected pictures and describe their experience from there.

Both approaches are attempts to describe intimate truths and perceptions. By giving the either one of the photos a biased platform, gratifying reviews, recognition and including it into important national overview books, it is likely to head down into the dangerous slope of convincing everyone – including themselves – that this is the ultimate truth. That every clown is supposed to look like the clown that is showcased in the award ceremony or the overview book.

Ivi van Keulen – Antifragile Ceramics

Design festivals

To clarify, this description is a metaphor for my questions regarding how platforms are set up in relation to the glorification of creative perspectives. Is the picture of the national design festival a pre-decided presentation with complete budgets of what props and projects are to be included into the frame, with preplanned lighting to further highlight and elevate certain voices? Or is the picture of the Dutch Design Week a developing process as the festivities unfold – where the more organic reactions, dialogue exchange, turnout of the participants and visitors are also considered into the frame?

The prior with it’s closed, controlled structure promises a closer outcome to a pristine print. But how much of the performance of clownery is curated before it turns into something more than real life, is something worth pondering on. Are the humans drinking soda in the Coke advertisements actually happy? There is always space to be more precarious in this complex industry that we are in.

Reflecting on both polarizing views above, however, reality is always about balancing both ends: without a framework the expensive design festival risks becoming an experiment with no clear goals. This is why Dutch Design Week introduced ten program narratives as frames for how visitors can approach the participating projects.

Caludia Paredes – Archeological Data

Faults and failures

In the design perspective of Signature and Collectable the projects are defined by their unique expressions through objects that stir up interests in the act of collecting. Included in this category are projects like Ivi van Keulen’s Antifragile Ceramics where she contrasts the concept of antifragility (a property of systems in which they increase in capability to thrive through shocks, volatility, mistakes, faults or failures) with the use of ceramics.

Caludia Paredes’ Archeological Data reimagines a universe where soil and clay are used as cooling agents as a solution to dirty energy consumption. Both projects that will be on display during the design week and fits into the idea of the “Picture This” theme of urgently considering future scenarios of how designers find answers to pressing contemporary questions of sustainability and our relationship with materials.

Generally, by mastering the craft of finding different perspectives in seeing familiar materials or objects and considering interesting ways to frame perceptions around it, the designer inspires the public to take home a project akin to an intimate photograph that signifies an agreeable viewpoint to be included into the public’s personal lives. But the nuanced reasons to why the public wishes to privately acquire a cooling clay sculpture for themselves is a fascination we can only find out through private opinions during the festival itself.

MAISON DE FAUX’s – Timelesstime
FOTO Boudewijn Bollmann

Iranian women

In the mission to Achieve Equal Society, the discourses start from small day to day prompts – from the mundane act of aging to the act of women taking off their headscarves. Through the critical lens of each designer, simple actions that are tied to specific cultural connotations and convoluted power structures becomes apparent.

MAISON DE FAUX’s Timelesstime is an exhibition plus performance that brings together all its experience in scenography and fashion, visual art, digital culture and choreography eluding the narrative of time and timelessness, lack of time and eternal values. Crafted Liberation from RK collective created stadium seats made from donated headscarves of Iranian women featuring stories of their struggle against political and societal constraints. Both are projects are dancing entities: one free from the hierarchical constrains of age, the other a stadium full of seats representing the unity and empowerment of oppressed women from another land.

How do these design projects  relate to the picture, an object that displays a certain scenario in a specific moment of time? Maybe a better way to digest the theme of this year is to reconsider the collection of projects as projections of the future instead of literal photographs of the past. When we gaze up into the starry night sky, there seems to be unlimited space for possibilities and optimism to exist. It’s important to have very elaborate and expensive checkpoints of hopefulness in the annual calendar of this industry. As long as both our feet stay grounded and we are willing to stay with the current troubles plus know the difference between a projection and real stars, there is no harm in getting lost in a pretty picture of a starry sky once in a while.

Marcos Kueh


Marcos Kueh (1995, Sarawak) is a textile artist who has a background in graphic design and advertising. Growing up in a post-colonial developing country, he has always been fascinated about his identity as Malaysian and his place in the larger discourses in the West. His practice is about safeguarding contemporary legends onto textiles; to use fibres to string bits of day-to-day narratives he encounters for storytelling – just as the ancestors of Borneo did with their dreams and legends, before the arrival of written alphabets from the West.

In many of his artistic research projects, he explores the spectacle of how his country is being perceived, from colonial descriptions in anthropological museums around the world, to marketing texts in tourism advertisements, versus his lived experiences as a human from a small town in Borneo, navigating through mundane expectations to progress as a modern citizen in a gradual, uniform, globalized world.

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