REAL-WORLD LABORATORY – Central European Design

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by Magda Kochanowska, curator

Experimental design and industrial production – the two radically different faces of design presented at the “Real‑World Laboratory” exhibition – two designer attitudes that complement, support and enrich one another. Conceptual design, which is an intellectual field of experimentation, a source of new ideas; and industrial production, which economically justifies the designer’s work, have here been brought into dialogue. A presentation of this sort demonstrates the eternal drive toward synthesis that lurks in the applied arts and in design – disciplines combining art and technology, beauty with functionality, and craftsmanship with innovation.

“Real‑World Laboratory” presents designs from six Central European countries: Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

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These countries – with the exception of Austria – continue to be perceived as places where industry is insufficiently developed, and where design is backward compared with highly‑developed countries. The Platform for Central European Culture has facilitated co‑operation which bore fruit in this exhibition, causing – I hope – an increasingly perceptible need for these countries’ images to change, and in particular for opinions on their design to be brought up to date.

The exhibit thus links the six above‑mentioned countries into one “body,” but we ought not to look for common attributes of the exhibitions or designers. This presentation avoids comparisons and emphasizes facets that are strong and characteristic for each region. Each country presents objects of a selected type: for Austria – furniture, Slovakia – transportation, Czech Republic – glass and porcelain, Slovenia – footwear, Hungary – building materials, and Poland, the project coordinator – lighting.

Our goal was not to present the best developing branches of industry, but rather to display a characteristic phenomena. Not everyone knows, for example, that Poland is one of the world’s largest furniture producers, and yet we have chosen to present lighting – a field in which we find an innovative approach that does a good job of representing our country – a certain kind of “coping with” adversity. In the porcelain designs we see the typical “Czech sense of humor,” in the Austrian furniture a sense of calm and self‑assurance, in the Hungarian designs an affinity for material and a search for new technological solutions etc.

The selected exhibits speak volumes about their countries of origin, and also about their approaches to design, particularly the varying understandings
of experiment and innovation we observe in the designs in question. On the basis of this exhibit, no one should find common attributes in the design
of the countries of Central Europe. And this is how it should be. They all show what is exceptional about them, what they can be proud of. There is no sense in forcing analogies, because in spite of their geographical proximity, each of these nations has gone through a more or less stormy history, and represents a slightly different economic and cultural state.

A common Europe makes equal opportunities, but should not tempt us to erase cultural boundaries. Design helps us to transfer intellectual values to everyday material culture, and the more diversity we maintain in this era of globalization, the richer our future world will be.

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