The Art of Conversation


17 Monday 17th May 2010


Full of wonderfully fun, interactive and deceptively simple design, The Art of Conversation brilliantly exposes the creative processes at work in contemporary design. London's Inventory Studio and Berlin's Bank have brought some of the most exciting new and established designers across Europe together in a visual game of 'Chinese whispers'.
Showing first at the Idea Generation gallery in East London before moving to Bank’s own gallery in Berlin in June, each participating studio created their original work in response to that of the previous design team before presenting their own to the next. The presentations were made entirely via Skype – each exchange can be watched in their entirety either at the respective galleries or online.
Often, however, the objects themselves were not finished so the studios were effectively presenting ideas and concepts to each other. "Sometimes the objects and the ideas behind them were very similar, sometimes very different", noted Bank's Laure Boer. Eat Sleep Work/Play, the first design group, was given a hot air balloon ride by the curators as a way of emphasizing one of the central ideas behind the exhibition, for the participants to 'extend their ideas into space'. Through research ESW/P discovered that early balloonists would take bottles of champagne with them, as goodwill gifts to the peasants or farmers whose land they'd eventually come down upon and sent a bottle to the next studio.
Slang latched onto stories of these peasants forming a 'cult of bubbles' after being so mesmerised at the foam pouring out once he bottles were opened, and decided to construct a shrine to the cult as a communications terminal. London's Value and Service's Currency forging station then allows people to relive a scene from TV''s The Wire in which the resident junkie-snitch Bubbles forges bank notes to pay for his next fix.
Kekiretta's performance piece was inspired by receiving her materials and presentation from the studio her before late. She started recording the time it was taking people to get stuff to her, but realising this was rather negative decided instead to find a way to give time back to people - through giving away cigars. Other highlights of the show include Multistorey's exceptionally brilliant lowTECHNO machine, a hand cranked drum kit make from camping and cooking utensils, and Hort's beautifully simple 'You get out of it what you put in' machine - a tube.
"Part of the brief was to do something you've never done before", explained Bank's Laure Boer. Without formats, remits or client restrictions in place the designers could follow the flow of creative exchange freely. As a whole the exhibition is much more than a collection of objects, it traces the creative exchanges between the participants and the interlinking yet disparate threads of inspiration running throughout.
Don't Panic spoke to Inventory studio's Dave Lane about the origins of the project.
How did the collaboration with Bank come about, and what was the original idea behind the show?
There was an event a couple of years ago where a designer’s work was being shown in another studio. Bank have got a little gallery in Berlin next to their studio, it’s probably only four by five meters. I showed all the record covers I’d done there but didn’t manage to go to the show. The next time I was in Berlin, I went to see them. We were chatting and I said it would be really nice if they did a show in London. We’d go there and they’d tell us about the interesting studios in Berlin and we’d tell them about people in London. We discussed the differences in the two cities, the different projects people are doing.
The whole thing’s been a conversation, all the design work. The catalogue, posters and flyers; from the colors we used to the typeface, it’s all been a collaboration like the show. It’s not necessarily the most productive way to do things, but we’ve definitely ended up with something different from what we would’ve done individually. I believe that makes it more interesting.
What was the process involved in getting the creative exchanges between designers going?
One of the big ideas was that of extending ideas out into space. In design often it’s ideas on a page, as opposed to two galleries with very different spaces. The Berlin space is big, square and white; you could have anything in that space. We wanted to give the first studio something that really instigated that. Through overcompensation we thought of a hot air balloon, to take them out of their comfort zone, give them space to think and make them think of the bigger picture. So we gave the first studio a hot air balloon ride, and then just got in touch every few days to check up and see how it was going.
Has there been a favourite aspect or moment throughout the process, perhaps something that sums up what you were hoping to achieve?
I’m not sure yet. I think it’s going to be really interesting because I don’t think we really knew what we set out to achieve. The whole thing was quite an experiment. There were things that were not necessarily positive that in the long run have pushed it off in a direction that has been really positive later on. It has certainly grown into something that, whereas at the start we were all very in control of it, at the end it feels like it’s turned into something that is driving everyone along with it.
It’s got a life of its own.
All the ideas have gone out and people are turning up with things. I think a lot of these objects and ideas can be exhibited elsewhere. There’s no reason why the last piece in this show couldn’t be the starting point for something else.
The Art of Conversation is at Idea Generation Gallery, London until May 24 and Program Gallery, Berlin from June 1 to July 3.
Limited edition prints from the participating studios are available from the Idea Generation gallery or online, at


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