Under the motto Common Knowledge, this year’s Biennial of Design in Ljubljana will take on the information crisis. Our first task is to commission six projects to be exhibited in the biennial. To come up with topnotch, groundbreaking ideas for the projects, we challenge you to join us in a creative, intensive, and competitive designathon process.
Through challenges presented during the designathon, we address pressing issues of our society’s primary institutions of knowledge production and transmission: a library, a museum, a university, and a news media organization. Together, science, academia, the media, and journalism have been considered the four pillars of truth of western society since the Enlightenment. In times of widespread misinformation, fake news, post-truth, and alternative facts, these same institutions might also be unjustly accused of being pillars of deceit. It is important to remember that one of the major issues of the information crisis concerns “truth” and reliable facts. The problem is founded less on the ability to get people to believe the wrong thing as it is on the ability to get people to doubt the right thing. As a result, these institutions are being shaken to their cores!
In addition to these four institutions, we have invited two more to be part of the designathon and to bring up their challenges for the creative community to hack: the botanical garden’s seed banks and a retirement home. At BIO 26, we believe that they also belong to the pillars of truth and knowledge in our society—the botanical garden with its invaluable knowledge of plants, seeds, and nature, and the retirement home with very experienced human beings, full of life histories and knowledge to share. We think we should also tap into these sources of knowledge, nature, and the elderly to seek better ways to interact and connect, learn, and care for our planet and each other.
Each of the six institutions presented challenges that participants could choose from and participate in during the designathon. Below is a teaser of what challenges to expect.
Challenge 1: Old Structures, New Functions
Most libraries have been designed according to standards from the time when computers and internet access were not yet widely available. Since then, they have experienced numerous transformations in their functional concept and common perception as institutions and public spaces as well.
As such, we will be challenging you to redesign old structures to accommodate new spatial solutions and organizational forms, as well as new services that facilitate the transmission of information to modern users.
The National and University Library (NUK) collects, documents, preserves, and archives the written cultural and scientific heritage of the Slovenian nation. It provides access to the knowledge and culture of Slovenian generations. In collaboration with national and international libraries, it offers access to the world’s written cultural and scientific heritage. In the process of creating new knowledge, it helps its users search, select, evaluate, and use information resources in various formats, forms, and languages. Its collections and services support scholarly and research work at the University of Ljubljana and other higher education institutions. The library is a center of knowledge aimed at lifelong education of the Slovenian people, and at raising their cultural and educational level and information literacy skills. Through research, development, and educational activities, NUK is helping shape the Slovenian library system, and it is making significant contributions to theoretical and practical knowledge of library and information science.
Commonplace Studio is the Amsterdam-based practice of designer Jon Stam (born in 1984 in Canada) and hardware/software engineer Simon de Bakker (born in 1979 in the Netherlands). The studio develops projects around the notion of autobiographical and social memory. Their work often explores ways to frame digital content by distilling the power of meaningful digital or intangible things and transforming them into material interactions. The studio was awarded the Designers of the Future Award at Design Miami/Basel, and since then it has been collaborating with international museums, contemporary art centers, and Victor Hunt’s Belgian design gallery.
Žiga Cerkvenik is responsible for coordinating international activities at NUK, for the library's website and social media, and for organizing and coordinating guided tours, events, and various promotional activities. His work includes preparing exhibitions, online exhibitions, and short documentary and promotional videos. Since 2017, he has represented the Slovenian library association in the global discussion on the future of libraries launched by the international association IFLA.
Irena Eiselt is the head of the Special Collections Division and the head of the Serials Collection at NUK. Her primary research focuses on the history of Slovenian photography and historical newspapers. Her primary fields of activity within the Serials Collection are coordinating work in the acquisition and processing of serial publications and providing serials and bibliographic information to users. She is engaged in developing new organizational and conceptual models of physical space for users at NUK.
Janko Klasinc serves as the head of the Digital Library Office at NUK. His primary fields of activity include coordinating and developing library material digitization processes, long-term preservation of digital resources, collecting and archiving Slovenian online publications (including websites), management of the Digital Library of Slovenia (dLib.si) portal, and development of advanced solutions for accessing and using written cultural heritage in an online environment.
Challenge 2: A Meaningful Online/Offline Experience
During a period of intensive digitization, museums have created a large amount of material in digital form. The museum of the future integrates physical and digital space seamlessly and creatively to reach not only its audience but to impact society at large. After providing public access to material objects, which was the first priority, what are the new ways in which collections could be accessed and used beyond the simple concept of making the material digitally searchable and identifiable through rich metadata? Even more challenging, how can one open up digital data not only as research information, but as a physical experience to stimulate the use and understanding of the archives and collections by the public?
The Museum of Modern Art Ljubljana is a national museum that works in the fields of modern and contemporary art. It was founded in 1947 as a modern art museum. With Slovenia's independence in 1991, the Museum of Modern Art became an increasingly active link between the local and the international contexts, in particular between central and eastern Europe. Since 2011, the Museum of Modern Art has operated at two locations: in its original building (MG+) in the center of Ljubljana and at the Metelkova Museum of Contemporary Art (+MSUM) located in the renovated premises of former military barracks. The museum concept advocated by the Museum of Modern Art follows its own orientation and resists existing hegemonic models. In the crucial period of the 1990s, the Museum of Modern Art refused to become a postmodern museum of sensations and intense experiences; on the threshold of the new millennium, it clearly developed the concept of an art museum that advocates a plurality of narratives and the priorities of local spaces that intend to enter equal dialogues with other spaces only with their own symbolic capital.
Paolo Patelli is an architect involved in spatial design, artistic and academic research, and education. He is an Associate Lector “Places and Traces” at the Eindhoven Design Academy and a lecturer at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. He obtained his doctorate from the Polytechnic University of Milan. In 2017/18, he was an artist-in-residence at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht. He has exhibited, lectured, and published internationally. He lives and works in Amsterdam and Italy.
Ida Hiršenfelder (born 1977) is archivist and sound artist that works at the Metelkova Museum of Contemporary Art (+MSUM) on projects related to digital archives. She is a coordinator and editor of the Web Museum, a repository for contemporary AV art, a member of the editorial board of L'internationale Online, and a co-curator of the Glossary of Common Knowledge. Earlier, she was a digital archivist at the Center for Contemporary Arts (SCCA) in Ljubljana (2007–2013). Media archaeology, temporality, archives, and their disappearance are some of her key interests.
Challenge 3: Toward New Learning Ergonomics
Universities tend to represent a community focal point for knowledge and skills development of a strong market workforce. As learning institutions, they can also play an important role in the “making” of active and educated citizens—or both!
We will ask you to reexamine traditional pedagogy and scholarship, and how and where learning and teaching take place. We seek redesigned learning and teaching practices and the spaces (physical and virtual) that these practices take place in.
In other words, we are looking forward to seeing innovative and creative approaches to using existing infrastructure and to combining online and offline environments to promote teamwork, community building, and a civic (as well as professional) agency of students.
The University of Ljubljana is the oldest and largest higher education and research institution in Slovenia. The university and its rich tradition date back to 1919. It has more than 37,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in more than four hundred programs, and it employs approximately 5,600 higher education teachers, researchers, assistants, and administrative staff at twenty-three faculties and three arts academies. The University of Ljubljana is the central and largest educational institution in Slovenia. It is also the central and largest research institution in Slovenia, with thirty percent of all registered researchers. The university holds a central teaching position by performing public services in the areas of special social importance to ensure the preservation of national identity. The University of Ljubljana ranks among the top four hundred universities according to the ARWU Shanghai ranking and among the top three percent of universities in the world according the Times ranking.
Apolonija Šušteršič is an architect and visual artist. Her work relates to the critical analysis of space, primarily focusing on the processes and relationships between institutions, cultural politics, urban planning, and architecture. Her practice is embedded within interdisciplinary discourse and usually includes collaboration with other professionals and the local population. Šušteršič has a PhD from the University of Lund’s Malmö Art Academy in Sweden, and she runs her own art and architecture studio practice in Oslo, Norway and Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is a professor of visual art at the Oslo National Academy for the Arts and is head of MFA program Art & Public Space.
Tomaž Deželan is the assistant secretary-general of the University of Ljubljana, an associate professor of political science, and a research fellow at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Social Sciences. After completing his doctorate, he pursued a research career and coordinated more than fifteen basic and applied national and international research projects. He holds the title of Jean Monnet Chair for citizenship education from the European Commission. He is currently coordinating more than ten research projects, and among other duties he is the principal researcher for the Youth Progress Index.
Challenge 4: An Academy of Life
The aging of the population is a phenomenon that is faced not only by European countries, but globally. The consequences of improved living conditions are reflected in longer life expectancy and a falling number of births. These phenomena are synthetized in the aging of society.
Quite interesting is the fact that the aging of society is strongly biased in favor of women, leaving a question unanswered: how can one encourage more male retirees to participate in leisure and educational activities in the “third life period”?
The economic mismatch between ever-growing retirements expenses being financed by an ever-smaller income-generating society requires finding new social organization solutions. In this context, how can members of the aging generation contribute to society with their rich life experience and knowledge in return?
The Fužine Activity Center (CAF) is a socializing and activity center for the elderly. The center began its work in 2010 as part of the Fužine Retirement Home in Ljubljana. In cooperation with the Municipality of Ljubljana, it promotes socializing and activities for the elderly. It enables retirees from nearby and more distant surroundings to become involved in various activities, socialize, and establish new social networks. It helps strengthen individuals’ power, develop a sense of belonging and usefulness, and develop mutual assistance. After people retire, it helps them overcome distress and feelings of uselessness and loneliness, which occur after termination of employment or after the loss of loved ones. The program is also intended for all those that want to take care of their mental and physical health through their own activity, and in this way contribute to a better quality of life and to enriching creative life power during retirement.
Kathrina Dankl is a designer and researcher. After her training in industrial design, she completed a doctorate in design anthropology at the Vienna University of Applied Arts and has since combined teaching, research, and design practice. Studio Dankl sees design as a sociocultural investigation with a clear goal: a product, a service, and an intervention that makes the future debatable. Kathrina is currently an associate professor for welfare design at Denmark’s Kolding Design School; her studio work focuses on narrative, cultural heritage, and co-creating history.
Monika Šparl has been employed at the Fužine Retirement Home since 2007. She received her bachelor’s degree from the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Arts, after which she received her current employment. In 2010, she created the strategy of the innovative day center project Fužine Activity Center (CAF)—a center for socializing and activities for the elderly—in cooperation with the Municipality of Ljubljana, and she became the manager of the center. She devotes special attention to recognizing the needs of members of the Fužine Activity Center.
Matija Puškarič received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Health Sciences. After completing his apprenticeship, he started working at the Fužine Retirement Home as an occupational therapist. His objective is to help residents quickly adapt to their new living environment and create a life in the home with the highest level of independence. With the help of his professional associates, he manages, plans, and organizes all activities, events, and projects. He is also engaged with various educational institutions, where he talks about occupational therapy, and he mentors trainees in occupational therapy.
Monika Vrhovnik Hribar holds a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Health Sciences. She is a senior consultant at the Fužine Retirement Home, where she is involved in occupational therapy. Her work and professional knowledge help residents learn daily activities, especially when they cannot independently perform self-care activities, such as learning how to use orthopedic aids. She is especially interested in dementia, and thus she also helped design and train staff in the home’s Concept for Working with Residents with Dementia.
Challenge 5: Connecting Plants and People
Maybe you have the idea that botanical gardens are simply beautiful and extravagant green real estate in the middle of our cities. However, in reality, their function is to catalogue and preserve a country’s plant life.
As “plant libraries,” be ready to find ways to digitize the index seminum (seed catalogue)—plants’ physical Wikipedia entry—and try to expand its capabilities to hold plants’ information. The way the entries are grouped and displayed must also be devised to serve the purpose of both teaching accessories and facilitators of plant conservation.
You will also be tested to find innovative ways to organize bottles of seeds in seed banks, uncovering new ways of organizational distribution that follow specific categorization patterns.
The Ljubljana Botanical Garden is the oldest Slovenian cultural, research, and educational institution. It was founded in 1810, at the time of the Illyrian Provinces, as a “garden of native flora” and as a department of the Central School (École Centrale). It was designed by its first director, Franz Hladnik. Since 1920, the garden has been part of the University of Ljubljana. It has enjoyed protection as a monument of landscape gardening since 1991. The principal activities of the Botanical Garden are research, teaching, and disseminating information on horticulture. An important task is the cultivation and study of species endemic to Slovenia. The garden cultivates plants that are endangered in the wild or even extinct in Slovenia, and it also serves as a test area for experimentation on plants that need to be cultivated for a longer period of time. Every year the seeds of the garden plants are collected for its needs and for exchange with other botanical gardens. The garden has a seed bank, which exchanges a seed index with 293 other gardens every year.
Futurefarmers is a group of artists, activists, farmers, and architects with a common interest in creating frameworks of participation that recalibrate people’s cultural compass. Amy Franceschini, an artist and designer, has exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Whitney Biennial in New York, MoMA, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Canadian Center for Architecture, and the 2014 Venice Architectural Biennale. Lode Vranken is an architect and philosopher. He has been teaching since 2005 as a Ned delegate at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain.
Jože Bavcon has been the director of the Ljubljana Botanical Garden since 1995. He studies Slovenian native flora, had authored many books and articles, and has worked on various projects, including ones on breeding certain endangered Slovenian plant species and endemic plants in substitute habitats. He is responsible for establishing the gene seed bank at the Botanical Garden. In 2015 he received the Marsh Award for international plant conservation.
Blanka Ravnjak has been a researcher at the Ljubljana Botanical Garden and an assistant for botany since 2009. She organized the European Botanic Gardens Consortium Meeting in 2010 and 2016, and she was in charge of collaboration with the Kew millennium seed bank project in 2013. She has authored several papers about plants in various journals and has coauthored books on native flora. Currently she is part of the project Life Naturaviva, which focuses on protecting biodiversity.
Challenge 6: Media Credibility and Its Discontents
Although the digital world has amplified connections and instant sharing of information from countless sources, it has also compromised journalism credibility and broken its business model in equal measure. Traditional news organizations, once considered the bastion of news, the source of reliable, objective, and verified information, today find themselves in troubled water trying to survive in an ever-changing—not to mention polluted—digital infosphere.
The spread of fake news, the lack of gatekeepers or filters, the online echo chambers caused by algorithms, and the inability to discern facts from fiction on social media pose a great challenge to credibility for the information we receive online and elsewhere. How can we rethink journalism and restore its value in the public eye?
The Internet business model does not sustain quality journalism. With precarious funding and shrinking audiences, serious journalism that serves the public good is losing its voice. Within the context of one organization, this challenge searches for ways where we can contribute to the industry by discussing and proposing solutions for the real problems that all news organizations face.
The newspaper Delo was established in 1959, the result of a merger between the newspapers Slovenski poročevalec and Ljudska pravica. Delo is published seven days a week; its Sunday edition, Nedelo, is printed on Saturdays. The most important guideline behind Delo’s editorial policy is credibility. Since its foundation, openness to the world and cosmopolitanism have been its second most important guideline. Although its network of correspondents today is not as wide as it used to be, Delo still has on-the-scene reporters stationed in Berlin, Brussels, Belgrade, Vienna, and New York, as well as a Europe-based specialist covering events in China and Asia. The greatest influence on Delo’s reputation was its editorial stance in the late 1960s, when the newspaper functioned as a reflection of the liberalization of Slovenian society, as well as its editorial stance during Slovenia’s struggle for independence, when Delo ran under the slogan “An Independent Newspaper for an Independent Slovenia.” Delo has the highest print run among the Slovenian quality press. Its regular Tuesday supplement, Ona, is primarily aimed at women, the Friday supplement, Svet kapitala, targets business professionals, and its Saturday supplement, Sobotna priloga, has been Slovenia’s most important opinion platform since 1967. Delo is published by the company Delo, d.o.o.
Since 2000, the Bureau d'études (literally, ‘design studio’) of Léonore Bonaccini and Xavier Fourt has been developing a collective work combining art, theory, and research, producing cartographies of contemporary political, social, and economic systems by revealing the invisible and contextualizing apparently separate elements within a greater whole. These visualizations of interests and cooperation re-symbolize the unseen. They have been working to set up a “place of social experimentation” in rural areas, publish the newspaper The Laboratory Planet, and are part of Aliens in Green, an intermedia collective of artists and biologists.
Ali Žerdin has dedicated more than three decades of his life to journalism. Starting at the radio station Radio Študent, where he worked as a journalist and editor from 1986 to 1989, he then spent seventeen years as a journalist and editor at the weekly magazine Mladina. After serving as the editor of Objektiv, the Saturday supplement to the newspaper Dnevnik, from 2006 to 2009, he held the position of editor-in-chief of Dnevnik for a year. Since 2010 he has been the editor of Sobotna priloga, the Saturday supplement of the newspaper Delo. Žerdin earned a doctorate in sociology from the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Social Sciences in 2012. He is author of several books, his research focuses on social elite networks, and his hobby is collecting old newspapers.