OPEN: AN INTERVIEW WITH ONKAR KULAR
ONKAR KULAR, curator of OPEN WEEK – Gothenburg Design Festival 2017 in a Google Doc conversation with HENRIK SPUTNES.
HENRIK SPUTNES: WHAT IS OPEN WEEK?
ONKAR KULAR: Open Week is this year’s theme for the first Gothenburg Design Festival supported and driven by HDK, School of Design & Crafts. The aim of the festival is to show
how design and craft is not just for the realm of specialists, but also for broader non-professional audiences. In relation to this year’s theme of Open Week, we have used various readings and interpretations of ‘Open’ as a curatorial and organizational question addressed to many different actors, institutions and spaces. The ambition is to use the festival to encourage learning and reflection on the role of arts education by engaging with a diverse range of audiences; from designers, artists, educators, students to professionals in the sector and ultimately the public.
HS: WHAT WAS THE BACKGROUND TO THE FESTIVAL, HOW DID IT START?
OK: The background to the festival is based on a desire to try a new format for the graduate design exhibition. Over the last number of years, we felt that the traditional design exhibition format, based on simply displaying an artifact, no longer supports the wider collection of design practices at HDK. Instead we wanted to see how an alternative graduate exhibition could be situated within a larger constellation of supporting exhibitions and events. That in-turn could create spaces for learning and discovery rather than the presentation of isolated objects ready for markets and audiences that generally do not exist. We want to show that design and craft when accessible to the public can continue to educate, inspire, challenge, asking different kinds of questions as well as proposing alternative present futures.
In this way we were keen to see the festival as a parallel ‘open source’ educational structure for a variety of audiences including our own students and staff at HDK. During the festival a number of courses at HDK and beyond are using the Open Week as their curriculum for the week. Additionally, we have slightly reconfigured the daily academic clock; much of the programming is hosted in the evenings, is free to the public, and requires varying levels of commitment.
HS: WHY A DESIGN FESTIVAL? WHAT IS THE POINT OF THAT?
OK: In most cases, contemporary design festivals and biennales at their core have a tendency to be driven by commercial agendas, used as promotional tools for cities, cultural organizations, individuals and manufacturers of all scales. They are also used as an opportunity for international design schools to showcase graduate work again as slick marketing and promotional tools. They usually do this well. Although we recognize that this is not necessarily a bad thing, we were keen to slightly repurpose the format and ask what are alternative possibilities when a place of education and learning drives the agenda. The question was simply how we might destabilize the current paradigm to a different form of ‘economics’ – one of knowledge sharing and co-production? At its core the festival is an opportunity to, step-by-step, test and challenge how these structures, formats and situations can be reprogrammed in many different ways, ways unknown even to us.
Another way to answer your questions is that, Open Week as a festival is an opportunity for art schools, cultural organizations, industry and practitioners to exchange ideas about the role of artistic education in relation to openness and society. As we have observed during the organization of the festival, Gothenburg has great potential to become an international arena for design and crafts. Academia, industry and cultural organizations can embrace the possibilities and together foreground the great work and activities being produced here within the wider city.
HS: YOU MENTION ‘EDUCATION’ A NUMBER OF TIMES, CAN YOU SAY MORE ABOUT THE ROLE OF EDUCATION AND EDUCATIONAL ESTABLISHMENTS IN RELATION TO THE THEME?
OK: As a summary, what the festival really questions is how a place of learning like a university can transcend barriers of knowledge production to a wider range of people – in other words how can a university be more open towards its many local constituents? At its edges, in many cases these local constituents have very little knowledge of HDK and what it does. Also within education, we regularly speak about widening societal participation within arts education and the arts. In certain cases even producing documents in the form of policy that state that we are to prioritize wider parti- cipation in our organizations. But somehow, we urgently require more, an institutional will that through a commitment of practice; doing, testing, failing and learning begins to make real visible steps. The question is what happens when practitioners, teachers and researchers extend the boundaries of their discipline and initiate creative explorations built on risk and uncertain ground? How can we encourage this sort of curiosity and bravery that comes along with the risk of critical self-looking? The festival sets the testing ground for how universities and educational institutions can become mediums of futures to come, a hybrid between school, archive, community center, exhibition space and museum of knowledge, open for the many and not for the few.
HS: CAN YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE PLATFORMS?
OK: Open Week is organized through a set of distributed platforms located at venues and institutions across the city and surrounding areas, reflecting upon different aspects of ‘Open’. The platforms are in that sense chronologies without any given inherent hierarchy between various sub-teams, modes, events or activities. As a metaphor, the Open Week and its formats can be seen as a shared working document – similar to the Google document used to produce this very interview.
The festival has been structured to reconsider the ‘authority’ of institutionalized access to representation and transparency in design and crafts education. Thereby Open Week offers and operates an open-source platform policy in which the various stakeholders and audiences can choose to engage in or not. In that sense Open Week can also be seen as a speculative testing ground for self-initiated and self-organized learning.
HS: WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES AND EXPECTATIONS FOR THE FESTIVAL?
OK: Firstly, my genuine aspiration is that venues, spaces and events, from a visitors perspective, are perceived as open, as if they were without walls, allowing audiences access to infrastructure and situations that encourage them to test new types of relations to oneself and to others. Furthermore, I hope that the Open Week can lay a foundation not only to maintain its own viability but sustain future dialogues, exchanges, insights and opinions on the role of design and craft beyond the festival. Dialogues that in turn can develop learning, research and future directions for design and crafts practice and education. Most of all the hope is that Open Week is able to create variations of transparency, open in many ways, from hosting exchanges between publics, open in the context of display, open in plurality of voice and participation and open to criticism and enjoyment.
ONKAR KULAR is Professor for Design Interventions at HDK, Academy of Design and Crafts, Gothenburg University. From 2008–2015 he ran the experimental design unit, Platform 13 at the Royal College of Art, London. His research investigates how contemporary design practice, its processes and outputs, can be used as a medium to engage with sociocultural and political issues. His research is disseminated internationally through, exhibitions, education and publications. His work is in the collection of CNAP, France and he has guest curated exhibitions for the Crafts Council UK, British Council & Citizens Archive of Pakistan. From 2014–2016 he was a Stanley Picker Fellow at Kingston University, and he is a co-director of the educational framework Night School on Anarres with artists Noam Toran, Nestor Pestana and Dr. Simon Coffey and Dr. Martin Edwardes from Kings College London.
HENRIK SPUTNES is a curator and writer whose work stretches into criticism, pedagogy and collective artistic practice.