Beirut Design Week 2016: Entertainment and Craft Upstage Design and Sustainability

Nélida Nassar   05.31.2016

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Sustainability is one of the key societal issues of today, we need to find a way to really make it part of all of our daily life, and clearly talk about it in terms of what is an intelligent design approach? Or what is smart business practice? Rather than trying to put it in a box to label it as sustainable. The Beirut Design Week 2016 edition embraced the topic for its fifth edition.

Amazing how the city of Beirut transforms during Design Week, as it features the communal sharing the city and its inhabitants thrive upon. Visitors create a buzz and immense energy moving from one neighborhood to another – among the seven identified design districts – on the hunt for the latest local trend, craft or design object.

One discovers notable curated exhibitions such as: Geek Express’s Beirut show by different local artists and photographers with at its core Salim Al-Kadi’s antiballistic kevlar material suggestive Keffieh. And Roger Moukarzel’s 1980 Lightbox scenes of destruction during Lebanon’s civil war. Made out of three dimensional cut-out numerals in zinc, they frame the translucide photographs. Thirteen Chairs by ten designers at Smogallery in an age when design innovation tends to focus on physical things, the chair is an eloquent medium through which to trace changes in aesthetics, technology, demographics, social and political concerns.

Restrained Design rethinks with uneven results ways to recapture and represent the city of Beirut, noteworthy are Youssef Haidar’s Traces and Places as well as Dimitri Haddad’s Charkiye/Gharbiye installations. Leatherscapes by Marc Baroud at Joy Mardini Gallery is a series of uncut leather croupons. They espouse, fold and drape seductively around each piece of steel-made furniture’s contours. Some fashion creations by promising, recently graduate designers are exhibited at Starch foundation; Vanina transforms canned canisters into jewelry and objets d’art. Few venues engage in non consumerism, Architect Adib Dada Beirut River 2.0’ biometric case study attempts to rehabilitate the dried out Beirut River, its barges and the living conditions of its surrounding communities. Not the least is Nabil Gholam’s Architecture and Urban Design Studio memorable visit where art meet design.

The well-established designers who recycle elements from nature are also present. Nada Debs who reuses imported olive, walnut or cedar drift wood disks enframed with industrial steel, locally fabricated for the recently launched tables and consoles Unanchored Collection; Spearheaded by German designer Jan Kath, Iwan Maktabi creates One Carpet For Love with a group of eight Lebanese design teams. The carpets different narratives mirror Lebanese society and use traditional weaving techniques based on the artists’ design woven in Nepal; while Bokja’s inspired by precedents cleverly recycles soft drink cans into tables and revamps reams of paper into settees.

Why none of the above is considered sustainable? The answer is simple. For recycling to be unquestionably sustainable, it is necessary to review the way the material is transformed and re-processed. Also, recycling is an unsustainable activity if it engenders the excessive use of other resources (oil for transportation, or energy for transformation). This occur for materials that are shipped overseas to be managed in developing countries – Lebanon being one – at a lower (financial, not environmental) cost.

What is most surprising during this week is to also realize how much the difference between design and entertainment is subtle, but important. Entertainment coddles and gives one a predictable pleasure while design leads to transformation. If that’s true, then we may have a problem, because what a lot of people call “design” isn’t changing us. At best, it’s entertaining us, dulling our senses and inebriating us to the realities of the world. Which is not the point. “Design” is supposed to transform: It surprises, it elates and it changes.

Beirut Design Week would benefit from the plethora of the city’s creative talents to transform itself from a celebration of marketing and profit over design, to become a substantial design forum for the region. By ceasing to feed “the public perception of design as a superficial discipline steeped in consumerism,” Beirut designers could then pursue successfully self-initiated political or environmental objectives making real difference. Only “Design” not “Craft” has the power to conceive, implement and transform.