DESIGN DAYS DUBAI
Design Days Dubai is the leading fair in the Middle East and South Asia dedicated to collectible and limited edition furniture and design objects. The fair presents design from leading international designers and galleries alongside up and coming design from across the world. The fair also presents a strong non-commercial programme consisting of education, workshops, installations and live performances.
The latest edition of Design Days Dubai has opened at The Venue, Downtown Dubai, on Monday, and promises to be even more dizzying and diverse than usual, boasting the largest-ever number of exhibitors and the most cosmopolitan array of work in its three-year history.
As always, the weird and the wonderful will be on show. Not only will visitors get the opportunity to have their portrait drawn by sketching robots and to watch installations respond to fluctuations in heat, light and humidity, they will also be able to see and experience works from the wilder shores of design.
“We have a very fresh line-up this year,” explains Cyril Zammit, the fair’s director. “Eight new countries are being represented, including countries like Pakistan and Jordan … I’m also very excited to have 10 designers coming from Algeria for the first time ever.”
Design Days has always been known for its openness to work from new and emerging design cultures, but this year, the fair’s commitment to contemporary work has really come to the fore.
“If I look back, the lessons of 2013 were a confirmation that the Middle East is a very fertile ground for collectable design and, more specifically, contemporary design,” Zammit explains. “This is why I pushed us this year to go and find new talents and galleries and studios.”
It’s an assessment that Alexis Ryngaert, the dealer behind the Belgian gallery Victor Hunt Designart Dealer, agrees with. “In general, vintage design from the 20th century attracts the most collectors and the most interest, whereas in Dubai, people are more interested in contemporary work.
“They are also very curious – they want to know about concepts or the materials or processes – whereas in most other fairs, people consider themselves as already educated in the design field. If they don’t immediately understand what’s going on, they tend not to be interested.”
For those who struggle with Design Days’s eclectic and wide-ranging curatorial policy – there is much that might challenge those with a more traditional understanding of design – Ryngaert’s notion of “designart” offers a useful entry point into what he describes as the grey zone between “industrial design, crafts, architecture, sculpture, conceptual and installation”.
He explains: “What we are trying to do with designart is to try to point out the difference between industrial design and this discipline that is in development right now, but you have to be careful.
“It’s always dangerous to put a name to something that isn’t fully developed, but as of now designart is the best name we have for this freer type of creativity that continues to maintain a relationship with objects of use.”
Few objects illustrate Ryngaert’s point as beautifully as Jon Stam’s Claude Glass, the exhibit that sits at the heart of Victor Hunt’s presence at Design Days this year. Stam’s Claude Glass takes its name from a largely forgotten optical device from the 18th century, a small mirror that was used by artists and tourists to reflect views in ways that echoed the work of the great 17th century landscape painter Claude Lorrain. The convex nature of the mirror shaped a large scene into a neat view, and the tinting, which was often sepia or brown, helped artists to see the relative tonal values of their selected view.
Developed when he was awarded the Designer of the Future Award at Design Miami in 2013, Jon Stam’s Claude Glass is a midnight blue mirror that also acts as an interactive screen. It was originally designed for the W Hotel in Verbier – the chain sponsor for the Designer of the Future Award – so Stam worked with the photographer Guido Perrini to capture a view of the local landscape in a time-lapse image. By turning Stam’s glass, the viewer is able to move backwards and forwards, not just through time but through the seasons as well.
Stam’s Claude Glass epitomises the best kind of collectable contemporary design that Design Days has to offer. A beautifully crafted object whose sophisticated conceptual origins engage with the design of the past, this modern Claude Glass straddles the fields of art, installation and interactive design while hiding its technical and technological wizardry behind a highly reflective screen.
It operates on many levels and is greater than the sum of its parts. Most importantly, however, it offers a new understanding of just what design can be, especially when it is seen through a glass, darkly.
DESIGN DAYS DUBAY 17 – 21 march 2014