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Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga: Carry Shopper © NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner © Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga: Carry Shopper © NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner

What looks good on the beach certainly looks good in a museum! THE INTERNATIONAL TOWEL is part of the exhibition “Subversive Design” in NRW Forum Düsseldorf. We spoke with co-curator Alain Bieber.


Hello Alain! THE INTERNATIONAL TOWEL is part of the exhibition "Subversive Design" that you are curating. What do you want to express with this title and theme?

Subversive design is critical design, but the criticism comes through the back door - that fascinates me. I've been involved a lot with politically engaged art, but a lot of that art takes place in the museum biotope and becomes tame as a result. We wanted to present products by designers and artists who deal with the most pressing issues of our time – from climate protection and capitalism to discrimination – but who infiltrate their serial counter-designs directly into the consumer system. Quasi also to turn customers into ambassadors of attitude.


Exhibition view of THE INTERNATIONAL TOWEL © NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner

And what do you find special about TOWEL?

In view of the difficult times, I think humor is still a good weapon, humor as compensation and outlet. When TOWEL came out, we were all in a hard lockdown, you couldn't really travel anymore – and a beach towel in vaccination passport look came at the right time. And for me it was also a clear and important statement: People, get vaccinated! For one shot we will soon be able to enjoy our freedom again and fly on vacation.

Your team simply bought our towel at THE INTERNET SHOP, and now it's hanging in the exhibition. Was that part of the curation idea? How did you select and source the other exhibits?

Kurator*innen Alain Bieber & Judith Winterhager, Subversives Design © NRW-Forum Düsseldorf,Foto Katja Illner Co-Curators Alain Bieber & Judith Winterhager, Subversive Design © NRW-Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner


Very differently. Together with co-curator Judith Winterhager and the exhibition designers from Please Don't Touch, we spent months researching, thinking, and having lots of conversations - and that's how we developed the overall concept. We also published an open call via our platform for swarm curation Nextmuseum.io. Designers were able to apply directly with their work, and we discovered many additional pieces in this way. Anna van Eck and Liora Epstein became part ot the exhibition in this way. We then purchased some of the exhibits in the regular way and they will become part of the Kunstpalast's design collection – such as Plateau-Crocs and Arena Shopper from Balenciaga. Other exhibits we borrowed directly from the designers for the exhibition, such as the MSCHF sneakers, because they were already sold out - other exhibits were also created especially for the exhibition, for example Pieterjan Ginckels Nobull Ice Accessoires.

Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga: Foam Platform Sandals © NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner



Visitors have been able to see the exhibition since February 11. How has the show been received so far? Has your understanding of subversive design evolved since then?

We have had a lot of great reviews, a fantastic vernissage and many enthusiastic visitors. Of course, the exhibition is also provocative and polarizing, through the exhibition design and the at times macabre exhibits. But I generally see friction as something positive. We are always happy when a dialogue arises. And the future is always collectively and permanently negotiated. By the way, we invite all visitors to comment directly on the works via our new AR Chat app [Download for Apple or Google].


Max Siedentopf: Pausenraum © NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner Max Siedentopf: Pausenraum © NRW Forum Düsseldorf, Foto: Katja Illner



The exhibition is about consumer criticism and counter-designs. How do you see the future?

I am a hopeless idealist. That's why I always look positively into the future. To paraphrase Joseph Beuys: "The future we want has to be invented. Otherwise we'll get one we don't want." In this sense: There is a lot to do, let's get to it!

Thank you!

We restocked our sold out TOWEL. You can shop it here.
The exhibition is on view until 22.5.2022



More on the exhibition:
“Objekte, die den Dienst verweigern” [Deutschlandfunk]
"Ausstellung: Subversives Design" [Arte]