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LeveL: the fragile balance of utopia by mischer’traxler

Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein

On the occasion of the London Design Biennale 2016mischer’traxler studio has designed a kinetic light installation, LeveL: the fragile balance of utopia, at Somerset House.  More than thirty nations from six continents present exhibitions and installations under the motto “Utopia by Design” at Somerset House in London on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the first publication of “Utopia” by Thomas Morus, a world classic in the discipline of social philosophy.


mischer’traxler studio, are a young award-winning design firm based in Vienna, known for their interactive projects, which place the sensory experience at the centre of their operation. Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler work with a content-related process, examining interrelationships and complexities and how these can be communicated, reflected upon and questioned by design. The studio is characterised by a critically artistic and research-intensive approach in tackling social and environmental issues. “Depending on the theme and on what seems most appropriate, they choose objects, installations, films, or other visual carriers as their means of expression,” Thomas Geisler, curator of the Austrian contribution to the 2016 London Design Biennale, speaking about Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler’s design approach.


In its exploration of the theme of utopia, mischer’traxler studio analyses the bipolarity of utopia as a complex construct of individual and social ideals: a fragile system as a balancing act that takes into account the needs of both individuals and crowds.

“For us, utopia is an ideal system in which personal freedom is confronted with communal interdependencies, in which ownership needs to be weighed against responsibility, and in which transparency is juxtaposed with privacy,” the duo describes its contribution. All of these forces either converge in an ideal moment of equilibrium or destabilize the system and cause it to collapse. History is full of examples in which well-meant utopias gravitated towards catastrophic dystopias.


Their site-specific installation in Somerset House fills a gallery space of 40 sqare meters. mischer’traxler studio works with the metaphor of a mobile for its utopian model of an “ideal system” simultaneously responding to the historical ambience of the space. The delicately balanced pendant object reaches its maximum luminosity when in perfect equilibrium. Each and every movement occurring in the room, whether initiated by visitors or other unpredictable elements, such as a draft of air, will transform the object’s shape and brilliance. The ambitious plan of an installation that interacts with the audience as well as its environment can only be realised with the highest standard of “craftsmanship” in terms of computational technology, artistic and aesthetic concept, and manufacturing. Their contribution seeks to communicate and present Austrian design ideals, bringing the thematic discourse together with tradition and innovation.

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all images © Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein