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Barcelona 2011: AGIOpen and the AGI Congress

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I think this image adequately expresses how we all felt about the AGI Congress in Barcelona this year. The Barcelona team, with Patrick Thomas, Mario Eskenazi, Javier Mariscal and his brothers at Palo Alto, Pablo Martín, Astrid Stavro, Andreu Balius and all the other volunteers delivered a fantastic series of events for us.

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AGIOpen was held in the magnificent Coliseum Theatre, packed to the balconies with students and professionals from all over Europe and other parts of the world.

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Monday morning opened with the brilliantly witty and ever-amusing Christoph Niemann, here giving us a look at his dreaming life.

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Paul Sahre hypnotized the crowd with his mesmerizing graphics, gigantic muttonchops and supernatural abilities. None of us can remember the 15 minutes following his lecture.

Due to my obligations with the IEC, I was unable to see most of AGIOpen, but you can read the glowing reports of it from Eye MagazineGrafik Magazine  and the Design Indaba blog part 1  and part 2

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On Tuesday night we were transported up a hill, climbed into gondolas and floated gently down to the beach to the murmer of digital camera-clicks and the occasional muffled scream. It was sunset and the views were spectacular.

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The Congress opening party was at a beach bar where we were entertained by gypsies (and Javier Mariscal). The guitar player was extraordinarily good-looking. I'm just saying ...

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The Congress took place at Arteria Paral-lel. The most moving presentation was by Alan Kitching who remembered his wife, Celia, and showed the marvellous works they had made together, as well as a book he created about her, Celia Sings.

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Some unintended comedy dogged the presentation by guest speaker, architect Carme Pinós, as she struggled with what appeared to be a rather heavy pole she was given as a pointing device after Patrick Thomas proved unable to jump high enough for her purposes.

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Those of us who saw it will fondly remember this scene from Alejandro Magallanes' hilarious test of our patience with his animated film. 

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What would an AGI Congress be without a boat trip? Well it would be Porto, I suppose, but after last year's lapse/reprieve all was set in motion again with a little trip around the harbour on our way to the secret dockside restaurant at Port Vell. Many little sea creatures were consumed.

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New members Joost Grootens (Netherlands) and David Smith (Ireland) meet and quickly become absorbed into the AGI family.

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The famed chef Ferran Adrià was one of our special surprise guests. He talked about his uncompromising creative process and desire to keep moving forward in the exploration of new ideas. He is essentailly an experimentalist who works with food and taste rather than a "chef" per se. Most fascinating.

 

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Now I missed this, but another special guest at the Congress was Pep Guardiola, coach/manager of Barcelona Football Club. He was described to me as "A god. One of the most successful coaches in the history of club football. He is the most prolific in terms of trophies-per-year ratio. The current Barcelona team—under his direction—is arguably the greatest in the history of football (American: soccer)." Well, I'm not going to get caught up in any football arguments, so fans of other teams will just have to let that rest. However, football fans at the Congress were suitably impressed by Guardiola's presence! He appeared in conversation with David Trueba, award-winning novelist, film director and screenwriter.

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Thursday night was the opening of the Modular exhibit at  Sala Vinçon. Those who had grumbled over the specification restrictions for the project had an "Aha!" moment when they saw how stunning they all looked together on the walls and in the book. The book was designed for the easy collection of autographs, so I decided to be a fan for a change and spent the evening getting signatures from everyone I could find who had contributed a piece.

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Ron Arad (right), the famous industrial designer/architect, was another of our surprise guests. After his presentation of his glorious, technologically adventurous work, he stayed with us for the rest of the Congress. He was very taken with our friendly atmosphere and told us that the camaraderie that exists between us could never happen in the architecture or industrial design world. No surprise to me; I've always thought graphic designers are exceptionally lovely people.

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Thursday was also Paula Scher & Patrick Thomas's birthday. Of all the photos I've yet seen from the Congress, this is one of my favourites, as Patrick gives Paula a birthday kiss. Do they not look suitably happy?

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Friday was our day off, and while I slept in and went to the wonderful Museu Frederic Marés, it would appear that several people showed up for the AGI Tennis Open. I know that Jan Wilker is very, very competitive and I wouldn't want to go up against him in anything. But can someone tell me, did Anthon Beeke change into his shorts and give these guys a run for their money?

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Friday night was movie night! This was held at the Estrella Damm brewery, so  there was a lot of beer plus popcorn and hotdogs! We watched the recent Herbert Matter film, a few minutes of Stefan Sagmeister's Happy Film, titles from Arnold Schwartzman, and upstairs were some smaller films and "the making of" Javier Mariscal's wonderful Chico & Rita.

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On Saturday we got down to serious business in the morning and afternoon with the General Assembly. A very proper report of those proceedings will be coming in the near future.

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While the room above looks very severe, it was housed in a gorgeous old library with a beautiful courtyard outside. During breaks in the General Assembly we returned to the usual AGI business of socializing.

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Whoa! Was ist das? Saturday night was the final party held at Palo Alto, the beautiful complex of offices, courtyards and gardens that houses Estudio Mariscal. This final night was a full-on Mariscal production. As we wandered through the main courtyard we became aware of strange goings-on in various nooks and crannies. Theatre, dance and music awaited us at every turn. 

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We funnelled from the courtyard into a large concrete building where more performances took place. The last was this strange-looking man with an amplifier rigged to be sensitive to light, and a bunch of wah-wah pedals which he controlled to make very loud, reverberating feedback sound. Awesome! I spoke to him afterward, and this was his first performance. He was very sweet and not weird at all.

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After the wall of sound, we were ushered out into a beautiful garden area flooded with lights and lined with long tables. The food, I remember, was excellent, but the conversation even better. This is what I love about AGI: all of these brilliant designers from different countries, talking and laughing together.

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After dinner, there were fireworks and Chinese drummers in the garden with a lion which proceeded to do the lion dance up and down the rows of tables. This was Spain's official passing of the baton to Hong Kong for next year's Congress and AGIOpen. Someone from the Spanish team whispered to me "You ain't seen nothin' yet" - or something to that effect.

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The Chinese drummers were followed by a wilder, looser band of drummers, and with a beat that was impossible to ignore we were led out of the garden area by this band and a couple of "demons" on stilts carrying torches of fire.

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We were herded into the main open courtyard and met by more demons on the ground and on stilts carrying fireworks and dancing to the music. 

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What followed was an astonishing display of fireworks which were held by hand or on poles, showering us with sparks! It was absolutely fantastic! Like being right inside a fireworks display! It was particularly exciting because it was completely insane! This would never, ever be allowed in North America, and I happen to be particularly fond of the things that North Americans consider to be too dangerous to be enjoyed. I was slightly worried about whatever my Japanese dress was made out of but I figured if I went up in flames there would be lots of people to put me out.

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After the smoke cleared we were led to another courtyard and building with lots - and I mean lots and lots of liquor. Plus a live Cuban band!

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Oh yes, there was dancing! Anthon Beeke and Anette Lenz are doing the Monster Mash, while Melchior Imboden prefers to Waltz...

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I made several new friends this year, and here I am with one of them, Alvin Chan; and I'm wearing a fantastic silver scarf given to me by Cordula Alessandri.

If you were in Barcelona this year, I hope this helps you remember the days and nights. And if not, well, Hong Kong in 2012, n'est-ce pas?

Marian Bantjes