Written by Eleanor Joslin
As the DesignFix team walked past HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai, on his way into the Design Days tent for its last day, it hit home just how esteemed events like this are the UAE. Being British, I couldn’t help but imagine Queen Elizabeth turning up unannounced to Tent London for a quick look at limited edition furniture during the London Design Festival, with a small entourage of eight. It just wouldn’t happen. Not without security, road blockades and a media frenzy. That’s if she actually cares enough about limited edition furniture to turn up to Tent London in the first place. I don’t think so. But Sheikh Mohammed is heavily invested in the emirate’s art and design scene, and the exhibitors, organisers and fellow visitors knew he’d attend at some point during the five-day show.
What designers would he have been introduced to anew and admired? The fifth edition was a record-breaking show, with 185 designers from 37 countries and more than 750 items of collectible design on display. Loyal exhibitors Crafts Council and Carpenters Workshop Gallery were back again for another year, but new exhibitors that stood out included Vick Vanlian – how could he not, with bright pop-art chairs and blazing neon lights? The Beirut-based designer is no stranger to Dubai, and has recently completed the new office space of luxury PR company The Qode at its new address in Dubai Design District. While Vick Vanlian’s designs are not to everyone’s taste, and I had to close my eyes walking past his BFF Private Sessions table, which stands on a flirtatious multi-coloured gabble of women’s legs in high heels, his novelty furniture designs were at least interactive and engaged with the Instagrammers at the show (including us, @designfixme). The ‘objet d’art’ neon signage that yelled ‘I AM’ from a wall-mounted speakerphone presented the perfect photo opportunity.
The Netherlands had a strong presence at the show, due to a funding initiative from the Dutch government. Exhibitors included Dutch Creative Industry (DCI), hosting an array of furniture and lights from 14 different designers, and Lex Pott who had a raw and natural take on materials. Lex said: “Thanks to support from our government we can come to shows like Design Days Dubai, and others around the world. This is our first time in the UAE and the market here in Dubai is very curious and creative. It’s great to spread the word about what we do, especially as we sell through various distributors internationally.” The Amsterdam-based designer held a workshop, Harness the Sun, during the show revealing the process behind oxidising the copper used to make the industrial-chic vases and pots on display at his stand. Lex also showcased a contemporary take on Far Eastern scissors, wooden windows carved from the trunks of trees that utilise the knots and grain to control the air flow in different seasons, and geometric shelves for Hay, a well-known Dutch distributor of cool and contemporary furniture and accessories.
M.A.D.Gallery, based in Geneva and Taipei and now Al Serkal Avenue in Al Quoz, showcased an eclectic range of high-tech yet artisanal items. The acronym stands for Mechanical, Art, Devices – evident across its booth. My favourite piece was Quentin Carnaille’s Infini – an aluminium framed mirror divided into a grid with clusters of vintage micro-horological components in each square. The French architect-turned-artist also displayed a levitating orb of micro-horological components, Apesanteur II, an impressive feat of magnetic technology representing a crossover of watch-making and architecture. It made me think back to the 2015 edition of Design Days Dubai, when Tashkeel’s Latifa Saeed showcased a giant levitating fly made from palm fronds. While using similar technology, the Emirati’s design evoked nostalgic memories of games from her childhood. As Quentin aptly says for both creations: “Time doesn’t exist; it is simply the result of a constant human motivation to materialise it.”
Kuwait’s Loulwa Al-Radwan made her first solo exhibition at the show, with limited edition items of furniture featuring traditional Islamic designs with a contemporary twist. Her work, which included a bookshelf, mirror and table beautifully carved from Carrara marble with brass details, are inspired by the natural beauty of peacock’s feathers. The interior designer, founder of INTERIA, said of the show: “It’s the first time that I have exhibited as an independent designer and I feel that I have really benefited. I’ve made contacts, sold some pieces, have met many new galleries and I’m now also looking at some possible future collaborations.”
Cyril Zammit, Design Days Dubai’s fair director, said: “We are proud that Design Days Dubai 2016 closed as the most successful edition yet. The fair saw the highest visitor numbers and was again the world’s most diverse international design fair.”