“Beyond Change: Questioning the role of design in times of global transformation”
Conference report by GSA Student Angelina Panagiotopoulou
Some of the topics addressed both through practised-led or historical-theoretical research were sustainability, social justice, environmental issues, and design education. The summit included keynotes, sessions, presentations, moderated discussions, workshops, platforms, films and audio-walks.
Indeed the topics and the premise of the summit connected in various levels with my own research and framework, as suggested by a friend who recommended the conference to me. Within my creative practice I have been exploring nationhood and I’m currently making work that challenges the traditional notion of national identity. At the same time I am in the process of positioning myself as a designer, so I am also looking into politics of design, social design and design in connection with nationhood.
A very important incentive to go to the summit was the workshop created by Gali Blay and Giuditta Verdame, called “Nationalism, Sport and Fiction”. During the workshop we explored the relationship between sport and nationalism, addressing movement and performance as a base to question current social systems and power structures, while speculating and rehearsing possible alternatives. Initially we were asked to play a simple game passing the ball, with three teams and two goal spots and we were divided in players and audience. While playing the game the idea was that when the referee whistled, players had to swap teams. This completely disrupted the structure between teams and created a confusion in the audience- but players were still committed in playing despite not having a defined team.
Following this game as an example, the next step was to reimagine and design different alternatives of the game by rethinking the rules, the uniforms, the structure of the space, the opening ceremony. After we came up with different ideas we rehearsed them, tested them by playing, observed the changes, and then collectively reflected on the result. It was very experimental and we had very limited time but it was still really engaging. The whole process of experimentation, test by playing, involving different people and observing their interactions was very interesting and although we did not end with something entirely productive, the process was great. I was also particularly interested in how they conducted the workshop and facilitated the discussions, since it was heavily based on the interactions between participants and observations.
Another aspect of the summit that I was very impressed with was the audience of the conference in total. Unlike other design events that I have attended in the past, the audience was very vocal, invested and critical in a constructive way. Many meaningful and relevant questions, comments or feedback were raised by the audience, after most of the talks, which led to really interesting responses and sparked critical, sometimes even heated, conversations between the audience and the speakers.
Moreover, the highlight of the conference for me were the design platforms that were running throughout the whole three days of the Summit. Each of them problematise the role of design from within the discipline itself: Decolonising Design Group, Depatriarchise Design, and Precarity Pilot. The platforms facilitated talks and debated on politics of design within practice, theory and academic research. It was a very engaging addition to the whole summit, since it was proposing modes of knowledge exchange beyond traditional academic conference formats and I found the experience particularly impactful. Although some were better facilitated than others, there was still impact since it was all dialogue / debate-based and more than one person were involved.
From my perspective, the conference was very thoughtfully curated. As a critical response to design, its nature was very thought provoking. At the same time it proved to be a great opportunity to meet like-minded people from around the world. The audience and speakers were international in their majority and from various design disciplines, while also at different stages of their career. I got to meet students, professionals, educators, as well as design researchers. I have kept in contact with some of the people I met and we have already talked about possible future collaborations.
In addition, as a postgraduate student in my final year, it was interesting to see alternative career paths and different ways people combined research and professional practice. Furthermore, the aspect of socialising with students from similar design courses from other countries was particularly crucial to me. It was very insightful to talk about our courses and compare our experiences. I regarded as really constructive the whole process of observing similarities and differences in methods, expectations and processes between institutions, as well as addressing the common ground, like concerns and struggles as students. Developing a critical stance towards my education made me more confident to go on and be proactive about it.
My experience of the conference overall was extremely positive. It was an inspiring and motivational event, which provided me with many valuable learning moments and incentives, as well as enormous amount of relevant reference material.
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