The United Nations cite climate change as the defining crisis of our time. What can design do to help? Many of this year’s must-see exhibitions explore this question, looking at the problems of waste, plastic pollution, textile production and architectural construction. Elsewhere, these shows dive into the history of African fashion and survey one of America’s foremost artists. Here is our six-monthly view ahead.
January | Waste Age: What Can Design Do?, Design Museum
A new generation of designers is rethinking our relationship to everyday things. From fashion to food, electronics to construction, even packaging, this show looks to a future of clean materials and a circular economy. “We must face the problem of waste – we can no longer ignore what happens to things when we get rid of them,” says Gemma Curtin, Curator. “Instead of thinking of objects as having an end life, they can have many lives. This is not just an exhibition. It is a campaign, and we all have an active part in our future.”
February | Sustainable Colour, Designmuseo
Clothing is the third biggest manufacturing industry, after automotive and technology. In a world dominated by fast fashion, responsible and ecological processes have become more relevant than ever before. At Designmuseo, Helsinki, Sustainable Colour focuses on one essential aspect of textile manufacturing: dyeing. The process dates back a long way, with our needs changing over the centuries. This show asks: could colours produced from bio-based sources become part of our lifestyle?
March | Nature x Humanity, SFMOMA
What is the role of an architect in the age of climate change? Since 2010, Neri Oxman (b. 1976) has been exploring materials, tools and construction methods – using new biomaterials and fabrication techniques to move towards sustainability. Oxman rethinks all facets of the field with a singular objective: to focus on environmental health and advance natural balance. With nature as the “primary client”, Oxman’s design practice upends the legacy of a human-centric built environment, imagining a radically transformed future.
April | Sheila Hicks: Off Grid, The Hepworth Wakefield
Collapsing the boundaries between art, architecture and design, Sheila Hicks (b. 1934) is one of the world’s foremost artists and sculptors working with textiles, fibre, colour and form. Drawing together over 70 pieces from international public and private collections, this major exhibition will explore the many facets of Hicks’ ground-breaking work. With large scale installations that fill gallery spaces with vibrant colour, Off Grid will provide insight into how Hicks’ travels across several continents has informed her work.
May | Plastic: Remaking Our World, Vitra Design Museum
Plastics have shaped our daily lives like few other materials. From food containers to electronic devices, furniture to cars, fashion to buildings, plastics have spurred the imagination of designers and architects for decades. Vitra Design Museum devotes a major exhibition to the “utopian appeal” of plastics and the challenges they have wrought. Remaking Our World examines the rise of plastic during the 20th century, analysing its ecological impact whilst presenting current research towards a new, sustainable future.
June | It’s Our F***ing Backyard: Designing Material Futures, Stedelijk Museum
Designers are increasingly harnessing their creativity to address the environmental crisis. Experimental approaches are essential, and include rethinking raw materials. In this show, natural materials are assigned new functions: plastic is produced from algae, fabrics and furniture are created from pine needles. Elsewhere, projects focus on energy sources that are less harsh on the environment, and on raising consumer awareness.Stedelijk Museum features work by FormaFantasma, Vitra, Ikea and more.
From iconic mid-20th century designs to contemporary ideas, this show will revolve around the dynamism, vitality and global impact of Africa’s fashion scene. “The route into this narrative will be mapped through an essential overview of the African independence and liberation years,” says Christine Checinska, Curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion. “The radical social and political re-ordering that took place sparked a cultural renaissance across the continent, laying the foundation for today’s fashion revolution.”
1. An e-waste sorting and recycling facility, Belgium. Image by Recupel
2. Oxford Tire Pile , Westley, California, USA, 1999. Image by Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto
3. Microbes in the BioColour research project, photo by Vilja Pursiainen.
4. Neri Oxman and The Mediated Matter Group, Glass II prototype, 2017; © Massachusetts Institute of Technology; photo: The Mediated Matter Group.
5. Sheila Hicks, Saffron Sentinel, 2017 © Sheila Hicks. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London Photo: Noam Preisman
6. Photography by Peter Stackpole, LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
7. Tamara Orjola, Forest Wool, 2016
8. ‘Indigo’ Couture, by Kofi Ansah, models: Narh & Linda, 1997, Accra, Ghana. Photograph © Eric Don-Arthur