From 1999 to 2017, the EXD Biennale by experimentadesign marked an era.
Words: Soraia Martins Photography: Ricardo Gonçalves
2017 was the end of the EXD Biennale as we know it, but experimentadesign was left untouched. In the face of such a bold final step for this project, we sat and chatted with Guta Moura Guedes, one of its mentors and masterminds since 1999.
Ending when maturity strikes: how do you see these 18 years of Biennale?
I’m extremely proud of what we accomplished. Nine editions, a total o 1,135,107 visitors, 1,833 participants, Portuguese and foreign, that involved 48 countries in entirely original projects.
We were able to position Lisbon and Portugal on the circuit of world events and showed that our country is a platform that is ideal for big discussions and international creation. We were the first in Portugal to do something like this and it’s amazing for me to have been part of this since the beginning.
We’re talking 18 years of work with hundreds of projects, impacts in every sense of the word, knowledge output, information, projection, sharing, communication, and building.
It trained people from that specific realm but also from the general public and contributed decisively for the projection of an essential subject. It created the platform that invested in Portuguese creativity, that internationalised it, that put creative professionals in contact with companies and vice-versa. It changed ways of thinking internationally, it catalysed projects and ideas, and it put creativity in the centre of innovation and competition. It were some extraordinary 18 years.
During all those years, and essentially in its foundation, what were (and are) the chief purposes of experimentadesign — as cultural association — and Biennale — as a platform to promote design? Creating experimentadesign was an exercise of design thinking and strategic design.
We clearly grasped that, in order to be successful, it was important to have quality and above all to not copy anything. Therefore, one of Biennale’s main purposes had to do with standing out from other events, mostly in the way we look at design.
We were the first in Portugal to do something like this and it’s amazing for me to have been part of this since the beginning.
We decided we needed a perspective that was multidisciplinary and anchored on culture, so we could better understand the role of design in society, and we also decided we would work this subject in an innovative way.
Equally important is the fact that EXD was always an independent event, the outcome of a very small group of people that had the skills to gather many others around them and collect many partners, too, both private and institutional, Portuguese and foreign.
The Biennale always had an identity that mirrored its curatorial activity, which means that its programmes were always created from lines of research proposed by curators.
We decided to explore this dimension because times ask for this kind of reflection. One of the things we’re losing with the excess of speed in everything that happens nowadays is precisely this ability to reflect critically, slowly, and profoundly about what we do and the impact we have.
"The 21st century is a time with an enormous amount of challenges and opportunities, and we will continue to be present and active in its construction through what we know it’s the most important thing for culture.”
What is your take of this last edition?
This edition was a celebration of the legacy and Biennale’s huge Portuguese and international impact. It reflected on the way the event brought information that was essential to a country that, back then, was giving its first steps in design. This legacy is very clear on the book we launched on this edition and that talks about EXD, but also shows our project timeline since the association’s onset.
It was an edition aiming towards the subjects debated on the last editions, that were always purposely prospective, being able to anticipate questions that came to be crucial in the years following each Biennale.
"Sometimes, I really have to stand up for my own photography style."
The subjects were really important for the identity of EXD, but they mainly contributed to emphasize fundamental questions for the construction of a better society, bringing it forward to public discussion and its interpretation under design’s spotlight. We decided to explore this dimension because times ask for this kind of reflection. One of the things we’re losing with the excess of speed in everything that happens nowadays is precisely this ability to reflect critically, slowly, and profoundly about what we do and the impact we have.
Now that Biennale is over, what changes do you foresee for experimentadesign?
experimentadesign as association will continue doing what it always did. It’s still a unit for the building of knowledge and reality and a springboard for design, architecture, and project culture content. To replace Biennale there will be new projects and new lines of work that will accentuate our mission.
The 21st century is a time with an enormous amount of challenges and opportunities, and we will continue to be present and active in its construction through what we know it’s the most important thing for culture.
Right now, we have in our hands the project First Stone, which is extremely thought-provoking and demanding, as it crosses internationalisation with innovation, a Portuguese cluster of remarkable value, which is the Portuguese stone.
As the co-founder and co-director of Biennale since the very beginning, and director and/or co-director since 2001 until now, its progress is a substantial part of my life. Many people came and went, but I got to see it grow and shine.