Embassy of Inclusive Society at DDW23

Creative lead Shay Raviv about training for inclusiveness.

Type Update
Published on 15 August 2023
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society
Embassy of Inclusive Society at DDW23
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society

Based on the gym metaphor introduced last year by the Embassy of Inclusive Society, Dutch Design Week 2023 (DDW23) will feature a spatial experiment in the form of a gym to train and strengthen your inclusivity muscle. This ‘gym’ will host a variety of projects. ‘Inclusivity is a continuous process of learning and unlearning; it’s not a problem that you can solve overnight or an itemised list you can check off’, according to Shay Raviv, creative director of the Embassy of Inclusive Society. ‘As part of this exhibition, you’ll learn new skills, try out tools and develop new habits.’

‘Your body changes over the course of a lifetime. This is due to the ageing process but also events. These changes happen to us all. Our bodies end up requiring different things from the environment. The exhibition and activities designed by the Embassy allow you to experience, for example, how your body engages with the world and how the body meets the environment.’

The physical experience of the environment

Raviv and his Embassy team and partners are expanding on what they set in motion last year. This applies not only to the gym metaphor but also to the relationship with the Van Abbemuseum, explains Raviv. ‘Last year, the museum principally facilitated the space. This year, I began speaking with Fabienne Chiang – the museum curator – as early as January. This coming autumn, the Embassy will be part of the Van Abbemuseum’s exhibition ‘The space between us’. And relationships are central to both the work with the museum and DDW. The Embassy is zooming even closer onto inclusivity and strengthening the relationships between various societal groups. 

Read last year’s interview with Shay Raviv here.

One way to approach inclusion is to facilitate a physical experience with the environment. ‘Your body changes over the course of a lifetime. This is due to the ageing process but also events. These changes happen to us all. Our bodies end up requiring different things from the environment. The exhibition and activities designed by the Embassy allow you to experience, for example, how your body engages with the world and how the body meets the environment.’

It’s about the diverse needs of different bodies, according to Raviv. ‘How can we design for different bodies? Virtually everything within our environments is designed for the “average” body of a straight, white, cisgender, mature, healthy, slender and non-disabled man. If you deviate from this standard size, the world doesn’t always fit you.’

Winners and losers

The activities in the Embassy’s exhibition space will allow visitors to discover the layered quality of the physical experiences. Raviv approached designer Gabriel Fontana for the space’s art direction, resulting in an area with recognisable elements from a gym. ‘Our hope for this space is that it conveys to visitors the idea that inclusivity is a continuous, personal process that you have to keep working on.’ 

As Raviv points out, ‘Gabriel has been working with games and sports for several years now as a way to challenge societal norms. He researches, for example, why games always designate winners and losers. But he also investigates the role gender has played in the history of tournaments and sports. What does it mean to rethink how we relate to each other?’

‘We’ve truly been dialoguing with Gabriel. We’re building on his previous projects and research. Most importantly, we don’t want to start something new because that’s not what inclusivity’s all about. Inclusivity provides an opportunity to develop as a society, to grow together despite, and even due to, our differences. However, this requires an active commitment to a continuous process.’ 

Raviv’s own ‘learning and unlearning’ process mainly entails understanding how she can resist the tendency to interpret things and make assumptions. ‘As a designer, you’re trained to make assumptions, which you then, naturally, test in practice. But the process always starts with assumptions. Last year, we wanted to work with Braille characters. We had texts of about 150 words, and those posters would have been huge. That wouldn’t be convenient. It’s better to ask someone with poor eyesight what they would like. You learn from one another, the knowledge already exists. That’s why I love working with others and inviting them to join in the process of learning and unlearning. 

Homo Hooligan Scarves and Total Body Workouts

The exhibition features works that enable different physical interactions and visualisations, while others offer a shift in perspective. There are agenda-setting works, such as Homohooligan by multi-disciplinary designer Davy de Lepper. De Lepper designed a ‘Homo Hooligaan’ scarf for people to show that they are allies of the LGBTIQA+ community, but it also increases the visibility of the community. 

Visual designer Kexin Hao’s work, Total Body Workout, is more exploratory. Hao’s workout is based on the Chinese morning workouts she participated in daily at school as a child. This workout makes you look at your existing physical movements differently. Movements that are formed by the times in which you live. 

Accessibility guidelines

The Lorem Ipsum installation, located near the entrance to the Van Abbe Museum’s old building, is also part of the exhibition ‘The space between us’. ‘Lorem ipsum stands for the text designers use in book proposals, for example, as a kind of placeholder’, explains Raviv. ‘The installation creates space for different accessibility guidelines. It’s a visualisation of the inclusivity guidelines.’ 

The installation is the result of a research and development project by the Embassy’s own team.  ‘Last year’s DDW left us with questions about accessibility. So we translated those questions into an installation. We worked with Marleen Hartjes, expanding on the previous research and work she had completed for the Van Abbe Museum regarding accessibility and how to set up an inclusive exhibition.’

The guidelines concerning, for example, typography, table height as well as display-case distance from the wall all form the core of the installation. As Raviv emphasises, ‘These guidelines are usually “incidental,” not a starting point. We’ve recast them as the focal point.’

The Embassy is building the installation together with Bruns (developer and exhibition producer, ed.) as well as information and design studio The Anderen. ‘It’s going to be very cool. By working with a partner like Bruns, we hope to have a greater impact and highlight the importance of these guidelines.’

Drawing upon our real-world expertise and background

Raviv is pleased with how the team working in tandem with Marleen Hartjes, the former project leader of the Embassy of Inclusive Society, developed the idea for the installation. The knowledge the Embassy gained this year by involving the new project leader, Gyonne Goedhoop, has been critical. As Raviv remarks, ‘This applies to the programme, but also to the exhibition. Inviting makers, communities and experts allowed everyone to draw upon his or her real-world expertise and backgrounds to discuss certain questions and challenges, though not all, of course.’

The exhibition and programme as a whole

Beyond these exhibitions, you will also be able to participate in workshops, training courses and symposia during DDW23. ‘For me, as it was last year, the programme is just as important as the exhibition. It’s an integral part of how we approach inclusivity as a process of learning and unlearning.’ You will also see this experience-based working method reflected in the activities programme. This year, the Embassy will be collaborating once more with the social design and participation agency Bureau Ruimtekoers. Bureau Ruimtekoers will organise a workshop with theatre-makers on how – as a maker, designer or policy-maker – to design the strength and knowledge of experience experts into a project. What do you encounter during the design process? What do you choose to do or not to do? Another example is the workshop on inclusive design to be led by Severine Kas of the Accessibility Foundation. Using her background as an architect and process supervisor on the one hand and her knowledge as an experience expert on the other, she will tell participants more about how to design so that everyone in society can participate. 

Raviv concludes: ‘That’s also the role that we, as the Embassy, would like to fulfil. We’re a platform and coalition that connects makers and communities, designers and partners from wide-ranging organisations and disciplines. If those connections then lead to additional collaboration, that’s the best result we could hope for.’

The entire programme will follow later on the website.

chapter-arrow icon-arrow-down icon-arrow-short icon-arrow-thin icon-close-super-thin icon-play icon-social-facebook icon-social-instagram icon-social-linkedin icon-social-twitter icon-social-youtube