Designblok has gained widespread attention since its debut a decade ago. Part art show, part networking gathering, the event (6-11 October) draws Czech and international designers and manufacturers. Headlining this year is the Dutch studio Makkink&Bey, which has shown its unique brand of home furnishing at fairs around the world and is considered to be a big draw by organizers. The studio is set to present a special collection of cabinets in Prague next month.
This year’s Designblok presents a diverse mix of work from some of Europe’s biggest names, including the UK-based Czech architect Eva Jiřičná, whose projects range from Prague’s Hotel Josef to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Fashion designer Monika Drápalová – who has done costume work for film, television and theatre and won best collection at the 2008 Designblok – will also be making an appearance this year.
The event has come a long way since its humble beginnings. In its first year, there were just 14 designers and fewer than 1,000 visitors. Organisers anticipate that this year will see 30,000 visitors and more than 200 participating designers.
“The scene has been growing since Designblok’s beginning,” said Silvie Luběnová, the event’s spokesperson. “The target group is not only in the Czech Republic. … Visitors from Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungry, England, etc. keep coming back for new input.”
This year’s theme is Spring – as in rebirth or a new beginning – which organizers felt was fitting given the economic turmoil of recent months. Although exhibitors are being more cautious with their budgets, Luběnová said, “Designblok is again a bit bigger than the year before”. There will be a lot to choose from: Fashion, architecture, home furnishing and decorations, jewellery, and graphic design, among other specializations, will all be represented.
Designblok 2009 received more than 300 applications from European designers; 212 were selected. Roughly half of the exhibitors come from outside of the Czech Republic. Participants were selected on the basis of their work’s quality, creativity and presentation by Designblok director Jana Zielinski and Jiří Macek, the creative director for Profil Media.
Daniel Piršč, a longtime Designblok veteran, says that the exhibition has helped make the Czech Republic a serious player in design industry and has given encouragement to young designers. In fact, five years after first participating in Designblok, Piršč opened his own porcelain shop in Mikulov, south Moravia. Designblok “is the one and only of its kind in the republic”, he said.
The event attracts a wide range of people, from curious tourists to serious shoppers looking to buy novelties from their favourite European designers to manufacturers looking for new talent. The event, Luběnová said, “has become a means of, and a unique opportunity for, co-operation”. Companies learn about new products about to hit the market, and designers, both renowned and novice, get to work together on a professional level. “Generally,” Luběnová said, “visitors are going to see what their favourite studio, company or designers are coming up with, or to find somebody new.”
Designblok is the premiere event for Czech design. “I wouldn’t view it on an international level,” said Karen Feldman, whose company, Artěl, took home the Best Manufacturer title at last year’s Designblok. “It really is a national exhibition of Czech designers.”
Feldman recommends Designblok to anyone involved in the industry. From her experience participating in last year’s event, the majority of attendees are from the domestic market. “Czechs really like going to exhibitions,” Feldman added. “They really appreciate art.”
Among the leading international names at Designblok this year are Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay. The UK-based designers aren’t exactly newcomers on the exhibition circuit – their home furnishing designs have been featured in shows from Shanghai to New York – but this will be their first show in Prague. They will present their Pleated Pleat project (cushions that can be turned into a seat), which they helped create for a design show in Milan.
“It’s fantastic that there are so many design events in Europe that give a stage to so many creative designers,” Mer said. “It’s always interesting to see the visitor reaction. We work out of our studio and can learn a lot from communicating with people who see our work for the first time.”
The duo met while studying at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, from where they both graduated in 2002. They eventually settled in London, where they opened their own studio, Raw Edges. Mer and Alkalay are part of Designblok’s Milky Way selection, which aims to identify new future stars in contemporary European design.
Also in Milky Way is Polish designer Bartosz Mucha. This year will be his Designblok debut. His studio, The Poor Life, churns out signs, symbols and other unique objects. Mucha will be showcasing his “funny hanger collection”: clothes hangers in the shapes handguns, umbrellas or other unexpected objects. He will also be showing off what he calls a “very odd human-ball”, a beach ball with legs and hands. “I don’t care about commercial success,” Mucha said. “I treat my work as art, and, in this art, I use design to say something about the human condition.”
Studios and shops around the city participating in Designblok will have signs welcoming visitors. Creators who don’t have a studio or shop in Prague, and those who want to do a little extra, will display their work at one of Designblok’s two “superstudios” in Holešovice. These special exhibition spaces will also host the event’s opening ceremonies, awards competitions, fashion shows and parties. A more detailed program will be listed on Designblok’s website in mid-September.
Tickets: CZK 150 gets you into every event for the entire week as well as a programme bill. Tickets can be purchased at either superstudio.