London Design Biennale: Konstantin Grcic Breaks Down His Pavillion

Samantha Tse

Konstantin Grcic.

The German Pavilion, designer Konstantin Grcic’s contribution to the London Design Biennale, explored the psychology of utopia in a two-part installation that encourages viewers to contemplate what an ideal world means to them.

The first room is an all-white space featuring the John Malkovich quote “Utopia is everything”, while the second room features chairs in front a digital fire, inviting viewers to sit and consider what utopia means to them. At the biennale, the German designer spoke to Cultured about interpreting the theme, the pavilion’s connection to John Malkovich and whether quiet contemplation is a luxury or a challenge in today’s world.


German Pavilion at London Design Biennale. Photo by Ed Reeves Images.

How have you interpreted the theme of Utopia by Design for the German pavilion? We interpreted in a way that I think what was most important to me, which was avoiding and creating any image of utopia or anything or installation. For me, utopia, the title of our project is a quote from John Malkovich – “utopia means elsewhere” and I love this description of utopia.

How does the quote “Utopia means elsewhere” capture utopia?I think it captures exactly what it is – elsewhere means, we don’t know. It’s not concrete or precise and therefore, there’s no image or definition of it and so our installation isn’t showing anything. We are trying to create an atmosphere for the visitors to think about what they think utopia is. We make the visitors the protagonist, knowing that the visitor of our installation is also a visitor of the biennale. So they will have seen other installations before they end up in ours and have so many interpretations of utopia to reflect on. Our installation is that kind of space to reflect on everything they’ve seen.


German Pavilion at London Design Biennale. Photo by Ed Reeves Images.

How does your installation trigger the reflection? The installation is divided into two small spaces. One is very white – it’s the first room you come into and it’s a white and empty, and in a way, a reset from everything you’ve seen. From the white room, you come into a black room and inside there’s a fire and it’s the first which is my trigger for people to start daydreaming and letting their mind wander off and coming to a self-reflection. A fire is such a simple, magical, phenomenal thing and fire is utopia. Fire is free for everyone and it’s something that works the same for everyone. Fire has the same magic power and creating this kind of focus and contemplation of sitting around an open fire – that’s what we’ve created.

I wanted the installation to be easy or certainly not to be complicated and heavy. There are other contributions at the biennale that take the challenge of making a political statement. I’ve chosen not to and I felt that for sure, in the context of the biennale, there has to be that one space, which is a release and something very simple and easy, and the easy has its place and relevance within the whole context.

Fischerfamilie am nächtlichen Lagerfeuer mit aufgewühlten Meer, 1778, Öl auf Leinwand, 64,5 x 87 cm, Schweinfurt, Museum Georg Schäfer. ah247

Jakob Philipp Hackert’s Fischerfamilie am nächtlichen Lagerfeuer mit aufgewühlten Meer, 1778, Courtesy of Museum Georg Schäfer.

What’s the pavilion’s connection with John Malkovich? Is it just the quote or does it have something to do with the roles he plays? I have to admit it’s just the quote. It just seems so perfect and fitting but where I found the quote, there was no context so I found it as just a quote.

In one of the two rooms there is a digital fireplace and chairs to encourage viewers to dream of a better world. In today’s over-stimulated lifestyle, is quiet contemplation a challenge or a luxury? In a way, it’s both. Of course there are cultural differences that make it more of a challenge and for others it comes as a luxury so it’s a very individual thing, depending on your cultural background or your current situation or your day. Like if you have a really bad day, it feels really challenging but if you have a good day, you might see it as a welcomed luxury.