Bifurcations: Choose the essential. The new Saint-Etienne Design Biennial

Seghir Zouaoui,


One of France's most important cultural events, the Saint-Étienne International Design Biennial has finally resumed its activities after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. In this 12th edition 2022, the theme is bifurcations, like the multiple, crucial ones that the world we live in has been facing in recent years. The subtitle, "Choosing the Essential", is an allusion and reminder of our shared responsibility in managing and shaping our planet.

Bifurcations: Choose the essential. The new Saint-Etienne Design Biennial

The Saint-Étienne International Design Biennial is an important event in the French and European arts calendar. Every year since 1998, it has welcomed and entertained visitors from all over the world, including designers, researchers, economic stakeholders, intellectuals, students, art lovers and the general public who come to make their own contributions or get inspiration across the whole design sector.

The 12th edition of the International Design Biennial brings to Saint-Étienne, a UNESCO-nominated "Creative City of Design", 111 exhibitions, 250 events, 28 conferences and 48 installations, presenting the work of almost 250 designers from every corner of the globe. All this happens over a period of four months, between 6th April and 31st July 2022, in almost four thousand square metres of exhibition space. These are definitely large figures, as are the numbers of visitors who were delighted with the last edition before the pandemic, which the organisers hope will be even greater this year.

The theme chosen for the 12th International Biennial is “Bifurcations”. In the words of the organisers: "March 2020 saw a bifurcation open up in French life, a change of direction in record time. The way we lead our lives changed radically. The experience of restrictions and lockdowns, implemented simultaneously all over the world, has been a life-changing experience. Taking this test of our resilience as a starting point, thinking about negotiating these bifurcations becomes a challenge that is mobilising the design and allied professions as a whole and opening an essential cultural debate at the crux of the issues facing our techno-industrial society."

Each edition of the Saint-Étienne biennial also selects a continent as guest of honour. This year it is Africa, a geographical area where ecological and political challenges and issues need to be resolved and eradicated. It is no coincidence that one of the main exhibitions will deal precisely with new developments emerging in technology, design and the arts on the African continent.

In the creative district, located in the city centre, the municipality of Saint-Étienne has also dedicated a route to the theme of the exhibition, named Bifurcation Road. This winds its way through exhibition areas and indoor and outdoor spaces, and is in itself an artistic experience to enjoy, created by the Saguez & Partners and designed by Julien de Sousa.

In conclusion, it’s hard to sum up the vast programme and the artistic aims of Saint-Étienne International Design Biennial so we’ll leave it to scientific director Olivier Peyricot: "With hundreds of exhibitions in the region of Saint-Étienne and 250 events, the Biennial is an invitation to join a collective reflection on if and how design can support us when faced with bifurcations. A critical, forward-looking tool, an inventive method, a cultural phenomenon, design is the subject of the debate in Saint-Étienne."

Francesco Cibati

Photo: ©Seghir Zouaoui


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