DMY Festival 2013
Fresh and Imaginative – Polish Design

The biggest exhibition of work by young Polish designers abroad was presented at the DMY International Design Festival in Berlin. With its modern designs, it is quite clear that Poland has found its place in the international design scene.

Ola Mirecka: “Lava Lemonade” Ola Mirecka: “Lava Lemonade” | Photo: At the DMY Festival, a tree from Warsaw stood right in the centre of Hangar 2 at Berlin’s former Tempelhof airport. It wasn’t in fact a real tree, but a tree mobile created by the architect and artist Jakub Szczęsny. Entitled Dream of Warsaw, this large-scale installation featured detachable “leaves”, each showing different variations of 28 drawn motifs of the city and thus drawing attention even from afar to the festival’s focus this year on Poland. After the festival, the leaves were handed out to the children of visitors, allowing them to take a piece of Poland home with them. The 20,000 or so adult visitors to the DMY were also able to take home with them at least a visual impression of Poland, having viewed works by over 40 individual Polish designers, cooperatives, universities and studios.

Poland has really caught up

Knockoutdesign: “Shinoi” Knockoutdesign: “Shinoi” | Photo: Poland presented an impressive mixture of good product design and fresh ideas. DMY curator Ake Rudolf was not in the least surprised that Poland was easily able to hold its own with previous national partners of the DMY – even design heavyweights such as Finland and Switzerland. Although he explained that Poland had not been associated primarily with design in the past, it has really caught up in the past 20 years and has closed the gap to its European neighbours: “We all read the same magazines, watch the same series and surf the same Internet. When I am asked about the differences between Polish and for example German product design, I can only say that the differences are just as minimal as those between Finland and Germany.”

Tabanda: “Diago” Tabanda: “Diago” | Photo: Poland also has a strong tradition of craftsmanship, something which young designers follow up on and upon which many designs are based. The best example of this are the well-known series of metal chairs made by Oskar Zięta. His Plopp stools may be simple in structure, yet their impact is stunning. Zięta studied many different materials in his quest for just the right effect, and now plays skilfully with material and design. He can probably be described as one of the leading designers of his generation in Poland. His works are regarded as pioneering, especially in terms of their economic use of resources and sustainability.

Presenting the modern Poland

Nikodem Szpunar: „Work/ Leisure/ Play“ Nikodem Szpunar: „Work/ Leisure/ Play“ | Photo: If it is in fact necessary at all to seek out the differences between Poland and countries with a more established design tradition, these may perhaps be found in the playful use of materials and motifs based on a solid tradition of skilled craftsmanship. The charming and ironic twist that characterizes the toy cars made by Bartosz Mucha out of household brushes can also be regarded as typical of Polish design. Marcin Zastrożny, who helped organize the national DMY focus on behalf of the Polish Institute Berlin, is certainly pleased that Poland was able to present itself at the festival as a modern country with a contemporary understanding of product design. “We presented today’s Poland, not the Poland of the past.”

Polish design art through the ages

Noti/ Balma: „Trefle/ H2“ Noti/ Balma: „Trefle/ H2“ | Photo: Knockoutdesign: “Shinoi” Knockoutdesign: “Shinoi” | Photo: In Socialist Poland there was no particular interest in the applied art of design, with film, literature and theatre traditionally enjoying a higher standing. Marcin Zastrożny knows why: “During the Socialist period, film and literature allowed messages to be conveyed. They were full of subtext and allusions. Design was not even on the agenda of most Polish people in this area.” One exception was the area of graphic design, in which the Polish School of Posters had acquired a good reputation for itself, even internationally, from the 1950s. Time and time again, it succeeded in using stylized succinctness to undermine the requirements imposed on its artists by Socialist realism. Post-1989, however, poster art had to reinvent itself from being an art form in its own right in the domain of culture to become a market-friendly and advertising-oriented service. It was not alone in having to do this: the arts in general had to redefine themselves in Poland. The social and political upheavals taking place within the country resulted in a different weighting, which also favoured design. This only began to make itself really felt from the year 2000 on, when the economy picked up at the same time as the domestic market for attractively designed furniture, lamps and chairs saw continuous growth.

Increased international exchange

Oskar Zięta: „3+ Collection“ Oskar Zięta: „3+ Collection“ | Photo: Furthermore, the young design scene became more international, with students from creative centres such as Warsaw, Cracow and Gdansk engaging increasingly in exchanges with students from abroad. Lemonade bar inventor Ola Mirecka, for example, works in England, and she is not the only Polish artist at the DMY who lives abroad. The new generation of young designers has expanded its horizons by undertaking periods of study abroad, and believes that this experience offers a huge opportunity for Polish design – so long as it is able to uphold its tradition of craftsmanship and production and remain as open to new ideas as it has shown itself to be in the past.