For 2014, Tent has looked to digital art, performance art and defiantly left-of-centre design in its exhibitors, rousing it from a somewhat predictable trade show into a brilliant spectacle that proves that design doesn’t just generate beautiful homes and successful brands, but fun and joy (and bafflement) too.
While east London interiors behemoth Tent, and its shiny newer sister Superbrands, don’t disappoint, we’d built up an idea of them as smooth, big-brand showcases that had perhaps handed over some of their edgier, adventurous spirit to other shows like Designjunction.
This year there’s a palpable playfulness and theatre to proceedings at Tent (though notably fewer big brands), brought in mostly thanks to the international designers taking over the Countries space at the show.
The stand-out space is undoubtedly Super Brands’ Tokyo Designers Week; which feels not unlike many elements of the Barbican’s Digital Revolution show. Eschewing traditional product design stands in favour of experiential work; the exhibitors mostly looked to showcase digital prowess in a sort of surreal, techy playground.
An installation called Kagura by consultancy Integral Vision invites visitors inside a white, cube room, where they stand on little footprints, and move their arms to form ethereal smoke-like projections.
In a stand opposite, people sit with augmented reality headwear, promoting the Homespot iPhone app, with which users can view design products in 3D by scanning images in books or magazines.
Over at Tokyo-based visual communications group Amana’s stand, there’s an immersive forest scene, which comes to life with flowers, moving human cross-sections and “Japanese ghosts” thanks to the group’s Apart app.
Undoubtedly the most bizarre stand we came across was that of EDP Graphic Works – a Tokyo-based group showing a piece that consists of a box of penis-shaped darts, painted silver. These are thrown at a board, activating a series of videos – an action the group says looks to help people “experienced of giving birth” (sic).
Moving into the 100% Norway stand, MA students at the Bergen Academy of Art and Design have created a series of design prototypes including furniture and homeware pieces, brought to life by an almost ritualistic act that sees designers bash larger works, with smaller ones, in what can only be described as a sort of design-led Stomp, the Musical.
Even MG Motors went for high-drama: the unveiling of its MG Design Project – a car decorated by recent graduate Louise Thorburn – was heralded with a camp grand reveal, and highlighted Thorburn’s more fine-art led explorations into body decoration and ideas of beauty and disgust.
Aside from these more bombastic stands, there’s much to offer in terms of the less all-singing-all dancing exhibitors. Highlights for us included Dana Finnigan’s bathroom suites and wallpaper designs by With & Watchman, among many others.
We perhaps should have foreseen this element of showmanship when it was announced that Afroditi Krassa was designing a bar-cum catwalk, the sumptuous monochrome centrepiece of the ground floor, which heralded the launch of Krassa’s first product range.
While this year’s big brands have made way for a playground-like feel, we feel this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it may well be this sense of experimentation that brings the big brands back in future. Design should be forward-thinking and experimental. It has the potential to be both functional and playful beautiful and fun – and that’s what Tent and Super Brands 2014 has proved.
Tent and Super Brands run until 21 September at Old Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London E1 6QR