Giovanna Massoni is the artistic director of RECIPROCITY design liège. After the success of the 2012 event, she has continued in her role for the 2015 edition, one that does not hide its ambitions. As from 1 October 2015, the traditional visitor of fairs and design shows is obviously welcome in Liege, but equally so are the general public. For Massoni, design must finally come out of the ivory tower where marketing has confined it. The ‘object of desire’ must be transformed once and for all into ‘a practice of objective and participated analysis, in a production model of tools and systems for the common good.’ In short, design can help to change the world, and RECIPROCITY suggests avenues of reflection, often at the crossroads of other languages and disciplines, to fulfil this transformation.
Here Giovanna share some thoughts on RECIPROCITY, the Euregio, the design system and, above all, the desire and need for a new economy of innovation and exchange. All that, obviously, reinvented through creativity.
First of all, which ‘reciprocity’ does RECIPROCITY refer to?
Reciprocity is primarily a declaration of respect that highlights the ethical value of design: it is respect in combination with exchange and generosity. Emphasising the link between design and the city-society it expresses a behaviour, an action that encourages sharing, to cross-pollinate expertise and create together the social processes of change.
How did RECIPROCITY come to life?
The timeline goes back over a decade. In 2011, the organisation of the International Biennial of Design Liège, founded in 2002 by Paul-Emile Mottard, Provincial Deputy for Culture in Liege, is entrusted to Wallonie Design. Wallonie Design is a non-profit organisation which, since 2005, supports entrepreneurs and designers to develop the Walloon economic activity in the design sector. Following a series of meetings I was appointed as artistic director for the 2012 edition – to my big surprise,given the change in strategy and direction I proposed …
The direction of my analysis was focused primarily on the development and creation of continuity for projects and existing knowledge.
The current triennial rhythm of RECIPROCITY imposes a specific responsibility: to make this project an ongoing programme adapted to the extent of the territory and with concrete goals. This is why the complicity of the Province of Liege and Wallonie Design has been, and remains fundamental.
What were the existing projects at the time?
In 2010, Wallonie Design with Z33, Cultuur Platform Limburg (Hasselt) and NAiM / Bureau Europa / Provincie Limburg (Maastricht), obtained funds from the INTERREG IV programme to create a centre of sustainable design – REcentre – which, for three years, has built an extremely lively platform: capitalising on the creative energy of the Euregio Meuse-Rhine, it laid the foundations for a new cross-border and multidisciplinary creative economy.
My way of thinking was very much informed by the projects that REcentre had implemented, especially the educational ones: the collaboration between schools in the Euroregio; the consideration of sharing and openness of the frontiers of knowledge, research and experimentation; and the adoption of a holistic oriented culture that promotes sustainable development and social innovation – and not just by training and cooperation between design and industry, but also between design, users and public services. With this in mind, I like to think that these challenges are like gifts, acts of generosity that open and enrich our knowledge and guide our practices towards the community, determining a cultural growth that is essential to the construction of a more equitable and sustainable society.
RECIPROCITY invites us to rethink our idea of design. One of its most important features is that it’s not simply aiming to show finished products or projects, but to be a starting point, an incubator for projects that develop over time. For a professional audience it’s obviously of great interest, but how does the broader public perceive that less conventional approach?
Without engaging in demagoguery, we tried to build a system (more than an event) extending from a participatory methodology, connecting with schools of Liege and the Euregio, the inhabitants of a neighbourhood, local organisations already active in the area…That said, the question provokes a major problem today: how to communicate and understand actions that put design at the crossroads of a multidisciplinary approach during an event and a public exhibition?
What we show and what we debate here are not finished products but initiatives that indicate paths with a series of goals. Social innovation and sustainability are not compatible with a compartmentalised approach.
Students and citizens working together to create services to improve quality – social, cultural and economic – of neighbourhood life, often do not have products to show, but they have developed a set of ethics, responsibility and collaborative methodology. That enables them to respond creatively to the specific problems of a community by providing functional and viable solutions. In the more specific case of a presentation of a product and design prototypes, we want to highlight the service that the subject evokes, the process that has been generated, who will use it and what’s its degree of social vocation.
Why did you choose a rhythm of three years for RECIPROCITY editions?
The Province of Liege promotes a rich cultural agenda. The activity of RECIPROCITY is part of a broader programme. In addition, the Province had actively collaborated in the candidacy of Maastricht as European Capital of Culture in 2018, envisaging an edition of RECIPROCITY during the same time. Maastricht ultimately did not succeed in its bid, but nevertheless we used this new pace in our favour. Between late 2012 and October 2015, we continued to discover and more effectively develop a series of projects that once again aspire to enhance the resilience of the city’s fabric, and do so on a long-term basis.
What, in your opinion, are the major issues the design for social innovation will face in the nearest future?
Because of its multidisciplinary nature there are many, but for me a priority is the training of designers and teachers, to get out of the academies and go to meet people, industries and public services. We also need to create a programmatic exchange with social partners and public authorities to generate more opportunities for public debate and collaborative design, and receive the support and confidence of political representatives. In this way we can participate in the creation of platforms in public institutions to rewrite the future of our economy and the concept of growth, knowing that sustainable development is first built on cultural and societal change.
Was there one project in the 2012 edition that impressed you most?
It’s hard to say… RECIPROCITY in itself represents such an extraordinary personal and professional self-fulfilment.
In cultural terms, above all, the greatest progress in the career of a person is to set yourself slightly visionary and utopian challenges, to know other realities and other people and meet their complicity and approval.
Initially, I felt the most moved after the first edition of RECIPROCITY while reading two long articles in a daily and a weekly Belgian newspaper, both explaining design for social innovation so admirably and articulately to its daily readers. The messages we were hoping to transmit seemed to have got through. Another important signal has been to see how social innovation design experiences have find fertile ground in schools: the workshops conducted with students are always integrated into the academic curricula, where often these approaches had never been present before. The investment and commitment of teachers and students can only be seen as a major plus point for the entire project.