Design festivals are embedded within the spatial, social and textual codes of the cities where they are held. The rise in popularity of these events has resulted in a vast transnational network. Focusing on its networked nature, my research examines dominant design discourses present at these events.
My recent trip to Shenzhen Design Week, generously funded by the Design History Society, allowed me to conduct fieldwork which will contribute to my PhD research on contemporary design festivals at the University of Technology Sydney on contemporary design festivals. Shenzhen Design Week is one of a number of in situ investigations included in this project. As with any city, Shenzhen brings with it a particular context for this analysis. Shenzhen was named UNESCO City of Design in 2008 joining 34 other cities worldwide. Sea World Culture and Arts Centre, one of the two main sites of Shenzhen Design Week in 2018, is home to the first V&A gallery in China (opened 2017). Shenzhen was China’s first Special Economic Zone and forms part of the Pearl River Delta megalopolis. Shenzhen is illustrative of the rapid growth of Chinese cities with its population growing from approximately 3000 in 1950 to 12.5 million in 2018.
The research trip centred on the main sites of Shenzhen Design Week which included the Museum of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) and the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Centre. At MOCAPE, the two main exhibitions: Design Exhibition of Guangdong-Hong Kong- Macau-Greater Bay Area and Face-to-Face, Between Art and Design, Between France and China demonstrated the connections made, through the design festival, between Shenzhen and other cities. MOCAPE was also the location for two-day series of talks by London, the host city for Shenzhen Design Week 2019. Presentations by the Mayor of London’s Design Advocate Peter Murray on London as a ‘Design Capital’ and the mayor of London’s ‘Good Growth by Design’ policy were of particular relevance. On one of the days, I took the metro to Shekou, located at the Western edge of Shenzhen, to visit the Design Society, the cultural hub which houses the V&A gallery. Here I visited the ‘Vales of Design’ exhibition which showcases several works from the V&A collection and the exhibition ‘Henry Steiner - Graphic Communicator ’ that was launched as part of Shenzhen Design Week. Visiting the Design Society allowed me to understand how ideas about design are communicated to the public by local cultural institutions.
My research trip enabled analysis of dominant design discourses at Shenzhen Design Week through the ethnographic methods I employ. This included the collection of ephemera, documentation of spaces and sites, participant observation and interviews. This fieldwork allowed me to make important contacts and meet with potential interviewees for my research. It also enabled me to collect materials from the exhibitions I visited and document the work on display. Shenzhen Design Week is of huge relevance to my project as it is demonstrative of the transnational connections that design weeks enable. Without the support of the Design History Society, this research would not have been possible, and for that I am very grateful.