Antenna Conference 2019

At this year’s Dutch Design Week (DDW) the Antenna Conference was organised for the third time running. It is a productive collaboration between Design Indaba and DDW. At each edition, designers, whether students or graduates, are invited to submit their work. This year there were no fewer than 300 applications, almost double compared to last year. From these applications, 20 designers were invited to present their designs during the conference. In addition, the projects were on display in the Klokgebouw at Strijp-S.
Antennas of 2019
Jeroen van der Wielen
Antenna 2019

Nathan de Groot enthusiastically moderated the different presentations at the Antenna Conference. He took the time to ask participants and guests in the audience questions. Like Joseph Grima, Creative Director of Design Academy Eindhoven. Grima stressed that today's designers have unprecedented freedom. Their creative vantage point allows them to look at the world around us and formulate answers that go beyond the product. In the following 20 presentations, selected from the global entries, different aspects of the design world were addressed.

Personal design

Most designers start with a personal fascination. Two Antenna designers also linked this to a story from their family. For Dimitry Suzana, the diagnosis of an aunt with ALS was the starting point of a study into euthanasia. By means of an interactive installation, his project Unfit to Live tries to make the visitor think about what it means when you no longer have control over your own body. You're trapped in a glass box and the only way out is an escape button. Suzana makes painfully clear that patients with ALS do not have escape buttons.

Claudia Adiwijaya took the memory of her father, evoked by smell, as a starting point. In Essentia she examines the relationship between aromas and personal memories. For this purpose, she developed a portable art object that is not only beautiful to look at, but also slowly releases a recognizable aroma.

A fascination or a random discovery can lead to the most progressive projects. Product designer Luisa Kahlfeldt never thought she would design a new nappy. It was the discovery of the qualities of the pure fibre that made her think. She had a textile woven from it, which turned out to be very suitable for nappies. A similar discovery during her research led Karlijn Sibbel to develop a completely new material. Reflex uses the memory qualities of a composite material. Heat returns it to its original shape.

A daily route can sometimes also provide inspiration. Garett Benisch cycles home from university along the Gowanus canal. He saw life and beauty, but also a lot of pollution, especially from the sewer. He wanted to do something about it. The pollution turned out to consist mainly of poop. Through experimental research he developed a pen, including ink, from these biosolids. Why a pen? It is a very familiar thing for us all: you put it in your hair, you put the tip in your mouth when you are thinking, or you mark your hand with a cross to remind yourself of something. The cycle is complete: from poop to pen.

Identity & design

Design can also be a powerful tool for social change. It can help to bring people closer together or to create awareness. Like the Morse code in the project Voicing Borders of Irakli Sabekia. In order to create a border separation between Russia and Ukraine, numerous villages were demolished, as if they had never existed. They have been replaced with a barbed wire fence. A visit to Russia inspired him to turn this wire into a radio antenna. Not for propaganda, but for Morse code. He converted the geographical location and the names of the villages into Morse code and distributed them via the wire. A powerful metaphor for the political situation.

Zana Masombuka also uses her creative voice to raise more awareness. In her native South Africa, she tries to give shape to a new identity for the Ndebele tribe by means of photographs. In a powerful speech she also talks about the importance of a new African identity. Her photo series The Ndebele Superhero adds images to her voice.

In New York, Antya Waegemann investigates something that unfortunately still affects too many women: sexual abuse. Abuse itself is already traumatic, but the subsequent handling in the hospital can be extremely stressful due to the absence of skilled personnel or even the lack of kits. This has to change. So Waehemann developed an easy-to-use Rape Kit, simple and not intimidating.

Inclusive design

One of the biggest social challenges is inclusiveness. It is the buzzword of this moment, also in the design world. Instead of emphasizing differences, we are looking for ways to get closer together. That starts with education. Western society aims to be open-minded, but in practice this does not always appear to be the case. That's why Jack Newbury went back to base. In secondary school, there is relatively little sex education and, if it is given at all, it is based on traditional ideas. That's why he came up with the Inclusive Sexual Education Kit, a bright orange box containing educational material in gender-neutral blue green.

Another challenge is designing for people with disabilities. Katie Brown says we need to upturn our ideas. Adapting a "normal" design to people with disabilities should be changed to a new "normal" design, applicable to everyone. That's how she came to hearing aids. She discovered that there are two views. The medical world mainly wants to make the disability invisible with small flesh-coloured devices, or there are designs that make a statement with glitter or bright colours. However, most people are in the middle. Don't get rid of them and don't stand out. She therefore developed a new neutral hearing aid. She compares it to glasses, something that everyone is now used to.

With the hearing aid you can visually choose which one suits you best. But what if sight is your limitation? How can you choose what suits you when you can't see? In her project, Camila Chiriboga helps three individuals with the development of new clothing, adapted to their wishes. One wants strikingly coloured clothes, the other formal clothes to wear at work and the other trendy clothes, to not fall out of line with classmates. It became a special collection that can also be worn inside out and with special tags that describe the clothes in a tactile way. In this way, people with a visual impairment can independently choose how they want to dress.

Product design

Although several studies led to a tangible product, there was actually only one designer who presented a real product. Tobias Trübenbacher presented his project IGNIS. It is an apparently simple product but with an ingenious technique. Research shows that 1.3 billion people do not have access to electricity simply because it is not there or because disasters or wars make it impossible. What everyone around the world has is fire. Fire is fuelled by natural raw materials, is used for cooking and spreads light. Trübenbacher gives this an additional function through IGNIS. The device converts heat into electricity. The device acts as a battery for charging through a USB port, but its main purpose is as a lamp. Fire becomes electricity.

Future food

Besides climate change, food production is a growing problem. How can we ensure that our diet is and will remain healthy now and, in the future, with sufficient nutrients and produced in a sustainable way? Thom Bindels, also one of the five VPRO De Toekomstbouwers (ed. Future Builders) this year, started growing crops. Deforestation is one of the major global agricultural problems. When forests are felled, the valuable nutrients in the soil wash away. So, he came up with a flexible cardboard box system that can be buried in the ground. The structure provides the growing plant with protection from being washed away. As the plant grows, it uses the cardboard as a support and as a nutrient. It is a start to make agriculture possible again while making the world greener at the same time.

One of the most important substances for the development of roots is phosphorus. However, this is becoming increasingly scarce. We eat it and excrete it through our urine, and it disappears. Aniek Vetter and Sylvia Debit thought it was time this changed. They designed P-Bank: a system in which visitors can 'donate' their urine. Behind the scenes, phosphorus is distilled from the urine. This can then be used in agriculture. The designers foresee a future in which such a system can be built into, for example, Dutch trains, with a distillery in Utrecht, where all the train tracks intersect.

Hyun seok An is looking for the solution for nutrition at an even smaller level. He designed a home farm for algae. Algae are capable of storing up to 10 times more CO2 and are extremely nutritious. Yet many people associate algae with something dirty, something that smells and that you see in dirty water. An wanted to change this context and thus improve the image of algae. So, he came up with an aesthetic wall-mounted system. You simply fill the transparent containers with water, nutrients and algae and nature does the rest. When the algae have turned dark green, they can be harvested. A matter of tipping the bowl into a scoop net and they are ready for consumption.

Architecture

Sometimes a small discovery can be the beginning of something big. During her studies, Kathryn Larsen discovered Eelgrass. It turned out to be a particularly suitable building material with a high insulation value. In the past it was applied by women as a roofing material. Unfortunately, the technique almost disappeared. And the only information available was in Danish. So, Larsen learned Danish and continued the research. Several tests eventually resulted in an applicable prototype. They became durable prefabricated sheets, suitable for use in modern architecture. Her research is now available in English. This way we can learn from our past to shape a better future.

Together we can make the built environment more sustainable and better. Both in terms of materials and in terms of the way in which it is handled. This is what Nikol Kirova shows in her project Synapse. From the material graphene she developed a small smart tile. This tile can be embedded in the urban space in order to gain more insight into traffic systems. Behavioural systems can be uncovered showing why people move the way they do, and what routes they take and why. The data is valuable, but anonymous. A first step towards designing intelligent cities.

Storytelling

The special thing about Antenna is listening to all these stories. The designers talk enthusiastically about their fascination and the path they have taken to arrive at the design. It is therefore even more interesting to see that designers also look at the way in which they tell their stories. How is a story portrayed? Christian Leban's animations tell his story, like his trip to China. At the same time, they encourage us to take a critical look at ourselves. Can we do without our phone? He invites the public to close their eyes and consciously do nothing.

Michael Wagner, on the other hand, uses technology as an important component. He wants to blur the boundaries between VR and reality. In his video Marble Maze, he lets children follow a ball that goes from physical to digital to physical. For example, he wonders whether it is possible to use current technology to create a performance that is spread over several locations.

Malena Arucci tells her story in her own unique way. She uses theatre techniques in combination with her fascination for costume and sculpture to create a new way of telling stories. Her graduation project Conspirational Mythologies examines how Fake News and misinformation blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. How does a new myth arise? Does Finland really exist?

Antenna Conference
Jeroen van der Wielen