Every year in January, Toronto walks to the beat of the design world drum. The DesignTO festival, now going into its 9th year, kicks off this years’ Toronto design week, happening between January 17 and January 28.
It all started 8 years ago with all of 7 events and a small but active community of creators and advocates. Now, it encompasses 100+ events, exhibitions, installations and storefronts, so many events to choose from that it can understandably be overwhelming to make your way through the entire schedule and choose the events that might be interesting to you.
Fear not, in my official role as one of the festival’s ambassadors, I’ve perused the program and cherry-picked the 21 events, exhibitions and window displays that I think will be the most interesting, with a brief explanation as to why these spoke to me in particular. Now, don’t take my word for it and go take a look at the schedule if you dare, or the digital guide version if you’re a visual person like me. You can also pick-up a printed version of the guide at the Gladstone. I will also have copies of the guide to hand out.
I’m sharing this with you not only because I am an ambassador, but also because this little festival’s mission is in my opinion very noble and I want to support a very talented and dedicated team of smart people, many of whom have shed blood, sweat and tears for years to make this happen. The result is their biggest-yet edition for 2019 that promises to be a blast and a half and I really want to see them succeed. Plus who wouldn’t get behind an organization whose mission is the following:
“We build a thriving community through design, and for design. We do this by collaborating with designers, artists, government partners, media, associations, and local businesses to build a robust and agile platform for showing and talking about contemporary design. We work to bridge the gap between design and community. The Festival’s five-year vision is to be a leading international festival at the forefront of independent design.”
Aspirational mission statements and personal beliefs aside, the festival is perfectly timed. Not long after the post-christmas hangover and dead-smack in the middle of winter, where there is not much to do that’s fun in the city other than eating delicious, yet unhealthy food. Well, now there is something fun to do and it is fun and (mostly) free. Whether you want to take your significant other on a cool date and impress them with your -ahem- “newfound” design knowledge or just want to be more connected to the creative scene of Hogtown, there are events for everyone and too many to see them all anyway.
In these times of compulsive amazon purchases of shoddy, poorly designed, chinese-made products, bland condos and uniformization of the global cultural landscape, one cannot but support a festival of misfits, cultural outsiders and highly creative people to show that there is validity and strength in diversity. Diversity of culture, thought and aesthetics that is. To me the festival has found a great, if underexploited niche that counteracts the ever-more homogenous cultural landscape. But enough of me rambling like a grumpy old man about how our culture is going to shit. I’m listing below the events that have caught my eye and I hope that they’ll inspire you to go and check the festival out.
Come say hello if you bump into me at one of the many events!
Pro-tip: the events listed below have been linked to the event page so you can get the info and register directly. For the exhibits, you can refer to the festival booklet either in digital form or pick up your copy at the Gladstone among other official festival locations.
The events not to miss:
1. JAN 18 - DesignTO LAUNCH PARTY
Who is it for: Everyone - The event not to miss. // Why should I go?: To rub elbows with the Toronto design scene. Bonus points if you are cool enough to make it into the VIP pre-party. // More info: Register here
2. JAN 19-27 - DesignTO GUIDED BUS TOURS
Who is it for: Everyone. // Why should I go?: Get to tour the city with design experts such as Alex Bozikovic and Dori Tunstall. // More info: Register here
3. JAN 25 - DesignTO TOURS: CAMPARI OFFICE
Who is it for: If you want to take a peek at Campari Canada’s new office. // Why should I go?: One of the hottest offices in town, check it out to see a design unlike anything in the city that channels italian mid-century modern. // More info: Register here
4. JAN 25 - DesignTO TALK: STUDIO SWINE
Who is it for: If you want to learn about the latest, hot up and coming design/art collective. // Why should I go?: Studio Swine will speak about their work using water and how art can engage us with a commodity often taken for granted. // More info: Register here
5. JAN 26 - DesignTO SYMPOSIUM: UNLOCKING THE FUTURE OF WORK
Who is it for: People interested in learning about the future of work. // Why should I go?: Lots of smart people on the speakers’ list. // More info: Register here
6. JAN 26 - TO DO OR DIE PARTY
Who is it for: Dancers. // Why should I go?: To close the festival in style. // More info: Register here
The exhibits not to miss:
7. COME UP TO MY ROOM 2019
Who is it for: People who want to experience cool design installations. // Why should I go?: CUTMR predates the festival by a few years and has been a staple of the design week since the festival started. This year should be no different. It’s always fun to go and hang out with friends, especially if they are exhibiting their own work. // More info: #10 in the DesignTO festival guide.
8. CONSTELLATION, EXPLORING THE FAMILY EXPERIENCE OF DEATH AND DYING
Who is it for: People who want to ponder the meaning of life and are not afraid to explore death. // Why should I go?: The subject of death is particularly dear to me, having recently lost a loved one, but more importantly because, as a society, death is never talked about, even though it is the only absolute certainty in life. Since we’re all going to die, we might as well learn to live with it and what’s better than art to trigger an uncomfortable situation about an uncomfortable subject? // More info: #11 in the DesignTO festival guide.
9. DANISH DESIGN - FUTURE / CLASSICS
Who is it for: If you’re into Danish design. Why should I go?: I like the idea of checking the work of established designers contrasted with that of new cats who are trying to make a name for themselves. // More info: #14 in the DesignTO festival guide.
10. DIYING FREE
Who is it for: If you like getting uncomfortable. // Why should I go?: To experience death from the perspective of a defunct. Build your own coffin and lie in it for a bit. // More info: #18 in the DesignTO festival guide.
11. HANGING BY THREADS
Who is it for: People who like interactive art. // Why should I go?: The most meaningful art interactions I’ve had in my life were with tactile art that I could interact with (Calder’s mobiles, interactive sculptures, etc.) so this one piqued my curiosity for that reason. // More info: #26 in the DesignTO festival guide.
12. LA PLANETE SAUVAGE: MOVING AWAY FROM HUMAN-CENTRED WORK BEYOND ANTHROPOCENE
Who is it for: If you like speculative design and can get past the unsavory title. // Why should I go?: Any one who refers to René Laloux and Roland Topor’s 1973 film of the same name is good in my books. Not to mention that the premise is interesting. // More info: #30 in the DesignTO festival guide.
13. LIGHT CAGE DUO
Who is it for: If you like the blending of art, design and lighting. // Why should I go?: Luvère Studio are friends, so I’m biased, but it promises to be cool. And it’s at Bulthaup Toronto so be sure to check out the opening reception. // More info: #31 in the DesignTO festival guide.
14. NOW 40% MORE HOUSING!
Who is it for: If you care about Toronto’s future and growth and are interested in urban issues. // Why should I go?: A hot topic in a city where regulations and NIMBYs stifle the much needed increase in housing for anyone who’s not in the 1%, this exhibit promises to shatter preconceived notions. // More info: #39 in the DesignTO festival guide.
15. THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME
Who is it for: You’re a surfer or like boardsports. // Why should I go?: An exhibit on the relation between shaping (surfboard making) and art/design, a local shaper will be making collaborative art pieces. // More info: #59 in the DesignTO festival guide.
16. TIME MOVING
Who is it for: People who are interested in breaking the cultural taboo about death. // Why should I go?: An exploration of the relationship between time and death, the exhibit promises to ask questions about our relation to time at the end of our lives.. // More info: #61 in the DesignTO festival guide.
17. UNTIL THE LAST BREATH
Who is it for: If you never tire of exploring the subject matter of death and its inevitability. // Why should I go?: The exhibition explores the issues of care at the end of life and what is truly important. In this age of ever-increasing life expectancy, end-of-life care is of critical importance, especially when it comes to making a dying person’s life more comfortable. // More info: #63 in the DesignTO festival guide.
18. WORK / LIFE
Who is it for: If you’re interested in exploring the relationship between work and life. // Why should I go?: To see design prototypes for contemporary life by Canadian designers. // More info: #70 in the DesignTO festival guide.
The window installations not to miss:
Who is it for: Gawkers. // Why should I go?: Philip Beesley, need I say more?. // More info: #6 in the DesignTO festival guide (window installation section).
Who is it for: Design Nerds. // Why should I go?: An installation by Batay-Csorba exploring precast concrete systems. // More info: #27 in the DesignTO festival guide (window installation section).
Who is it for: Poets // Why should I go?: A mixed-media installation comprising plants and poetry. // More info: #42 in the DesignTO festival guide (window installation section).
Festival website: designto.org