Porto Design Biennale 2019

The first edition of Porto Design Biennale marks an event of great importance in the cultural and artistic scene of Porto. Curated by José Bártolo, this biennial aims to overcome its biennial condition and produce an indelible echo until its next edition.

The first moment aims to map the works of the millennial, known as the Generation y. The suggestion is to reflect on the action of this group in a professional market that is affected by numerous and rapid changes and global tensions. In this context, on the one hand, we have the field of new media technology and digital social networks. On the other hand, there are the political issued caused mainly by the proto-dictatorial regimes of the main world powers and also the relevant ecological crisis.

In addition to this manifold theme, the programming is dense and heterogeneous. The biennial is divided into three nuclei: Present Tense, Design and Democracy and Design Forum. It is a programmatic strategy that contextualizes the conceptual line in the area of design. The starting point was the Municipal Gallery of Porto, where we found Millennials – Design do Novo Milénio, the preambular exhibition. This was conceived by the biennial’s general curator, who states that his intention was “to analyze the current disciplinary reality of design and identify the processes developed by designers as a reaction to emerging transformations”. Bártolo stresses the importance of exploring the forms and functions of design in the first two decades of this millennium. And also, the links established with the cultural, social, economic, technological, political and environmental dimensions. By exposing various projects that, together, result in a formal, imagery and linguistic dynamic, it establishes various discourses and relates to multiple issues. The exhibition becomes interesting for several different audiences. The points of view explored and exhibited are so many that we understand the vast multidisciplinarity of design.

Although this first exhibition is the one that comes closest to the biennale’s guiding principle, most of the participants belong to the millennial generation. Among them, the two young Swiss curators Megan Dinius and Michel Charlot, who give new life to the Artes Mota Galicia building, with the exhibition Portugal Industrial – Ligações entre o Design e a Indústria. They explained to Umbigo the importance of creating a new look at everyday objects and revealing the design aspect that exists in them. With this show and readymade exhibition, they give new visibility and renewed sense to several pieces, all conceived in Portugal.

One of the main differences of the Porto biennale is having Italy as a guest nation. The collaboration with a foreign country will be repeated in future editions. It’s an initiative that not only internationalizes the project but also energizes it, bringing images, voices and expressions that enrich galleries, artists, curators and the Portuguese audience. This dimension of the programme is called Território Itália and, with several participants, is led by Maria Milano. The Italian architect who teaches at ESAD (Matosinhos) defined, as an orientation, a critical geography, looking at design as a legitimating discipline of the logic of production and consumption. In a conversation with Umbigo, she said that, in Italy, there are already countless art galleries whose work is exhibited exclusively by designers. These, in turn, have in the artistic activity their main work. This underlines the importance of this creative area in the art world.

The Italian participation in the Biennale will have three exhibitions and a conference, which will take place at Ateneu Comercial do Porto, at Palácio das Artes, by Paolo Deganello, and at Casa do Design de Matosinhos. The highlight is the exhibition Frontiere – Expressões de Design Contemporâneo, curated by Lúcio Magri and Maria Milano. The focus is no longer the observable object, but its intention. As the architect indicates, “the mind envisions and the hand does”. At Casa do Design, we find several objects that designers conceive while drawing, project through new media and deliver to artisans. The latter, with manual processes, move forward with their construction. The exhibition shows stories of designers, companies, schools and associations that react to the post-millennium reality. Through a beautiful set of photographs and videos, a more human and emotional character is given to an exhibition that, like the others, is predominantly material and object-driven. Lúcio Magri states that the goal has been to explore how design confronts political, economic and cultural issues, and to clothe it with a certain awareness and social importance. The curator exemplifies with the recent practice of Italian design, inseparable from the context of tension and socio-political changes that affect the territory and Europe.

In Matosinhos, at Casa da Arquitetura, the social and political character has also been underlined. Entitled Que Força é Essa – Protesto e Participação Democrática em Portugal: Cartazes Artesanais do Arquivo Ephemere, the exhibition is divided into three nuclei: Trabalho, Troika e Tudo, Feminismoe Emergência Climática, placing these issues in dialogue. As the curator Helena Sofia Silva explained, all the elements presented were produced manually in Portugal, motivated by several protest actions in the country. The pieces also belong to the archive of Portuguese social and political history researcher José Pacheco Pereira, who owns a massive archive of Portuguese protest objects.

Until December, at Rivoli – Teatro Municipal do Porto, there are also two workshop cycles, a performance conference and a debate on digital culture. The relationship with teaching takes place through Projecto Escolas and Satélites, reinforcing this component of the programme.

Other exhibitions and moments remain to be mentioned, each one developed and materialized by countless curators, designers and artists that comprise the solid program. Each of the participants deserves the attention and visit of the public. The latter’s concept of design will change, acquiring new images, proportions and meanings.

Porto Design Biennale runs until December 8th, in various spaces and through multiple creations, as endlessly multidisciplinary as Contemporary Art itself and the millennials that compose it.


Constança Babo (Porto, 1992) has a PhD in Media Art and Communication from Universidade Lusófona. Her research focuses on new media arts and curatorship. She has a master's degree in Art Studies - Art Theory and Criticism from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto and a degree in Visual Arts - Photography from the Porto School of Art. She has published scientific articles and critical texts. She was a research fellow in the international project Beyond Matter, at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe, and was a researcher at Tallinn University, in the MODINA project.

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