London Design Biennale 2021 ★★★★★ Somerset House | June 1 - 27, 2021


London Design Biennale 2021 at Somerset House has as its focus Forest for Change. The woodland of twenty-three species of trees is placed in the centre of the glorious courtyard which is based on the Palladian Enlightenment principles of the triumph of human design over nature. Es Devlin, the Artistic Director, has provided an astounding feat of creativity and as we walk through the trees we hear a mesmerising sound installation of birdsong created by Brian Eno. Throughout almost thirty rooms the Biennale succeeds in showing how, for good or ill, design has, created the world we live in while the exhibition asks us to contemplate possible ways forward to achieve developmental goals. Many of the exhibits are strikingly beautiful: a tableau of Argentinian basket weaving, a simple brass pendulum and Marco Perry's sound installation, all compete for our attention together with a room dedicated to the loss of the Antarctic icecap. The German exhibit is an unusual tongue-in-cheek display of soon to be banned plastic cutlery. Since design is in everything we have created from masterworks by Rembrandt to coins and even guns, the message here is that although we are all too frequently overwhelmed by complex global problems, maybe we need not feel quite so daunted. About two hours should be allowed to absorb this fascinating exhibition at a leisurely pace, and one should definitely include an opportunity to admire Ini Archibong's Pavilion of the African Diaspora outside on the terrace while contemplating Primo Levi's comment: “If not now, when?

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Image: Forest for Change – The Global Goals Pavilion at London Design Biennale. Photo by Ed Reeve.

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