Design is a flourishing academic arena in the colleges and universities of Chile and Argentina, but designers in Santiago and Buenos Aires continue to be challenged by a scarcity of local patronage and clientele. As the design theorist and educator Carlos Hinrichsen has noted, part of the solution to this issue is for Chilean and Argentinian design “to cease to be an ‘academic curiosity’” and “to become a part of (…) the region’s social, productive and economic structure.” It is by working collectively in studios and engaging in experimentation with strategies such as upcycling that designers have found a way to move forward. In Santiago, Pro2Design, Studio Bravo, Modulab Ecodiseño, and We Say design studios represent designers who have chosen this path.
Satorilab is an experimental laboratory founded in Argentina by Alejandro Sarmiento and Luján Cambariere that explores design as a transformative element in Latin American societies. They use primarily discarded materials and promote the notion of creative play that stimulates the imagination. In one project, a collaboration with an individual of the Instituto Correccional de Mujeres Nr. 3 de Ezeiza (a women’s correctional facility), Satorilab transformed packaging remains from the eco-conscious, Brazilian cosmetics company Natura into whimsical robot figures. This project is an example of playful design and reflects the emotional state of a younger consumer market that is design savvy thanks to the impact of the marketing of socially conscious products by large mainstream retailers, yet at the same time is sentimentally detached from the images and objects from their childhood.
The influence of the young consumers was also noted by Charly Gonzalez Fernandez and Matías Fernández Moores of the Argentinian collaborative vacaValiente. They noted that their clientele includes tribes like “comic geeks” and young people who are moving from their parents’ to their own homes (which often means small apartments). While seeking to maximize their living space, these consumers carry an emotional attachment to objects and images, yet without the sense of long-term ownership. For their designs (which are mainly made with leather scraps), vacaValiente also upcycles materials and reduces forms to “minimal geometric expression,” based on the structural principles found in nature, using themes that “create space for the user to participate.” As in the case of many younger designers, they have found that a hands-on involvement in production and distribution allows them to insure a market share that is consistent and reliable.
Fabián Bercic and Angello García Bassi are two designers who cement the connection between a segment of the creative sector in Argentina and Chile, respectively, to the global Art Toy movement. Known for the playful character of his installation and wall pieces, Bercic recently explored biblical themes in his Eva and Conviertenos Dios, el nacimiento de Eva. The figures are similar to the wooden Kokeshi dolls of northern Japan, with their simplified stylized bodies and relatively large heads painted with a few lines that suggest facial features. Bercic’s work relates directly to the Japanese concept of kawaii (cuteness), which is addressed by Magdalena Grüneisen in her essay in this volume. It also demonstrates, as scholar Ami Kim has noted, that the “cuteness fervor is no longer limited to Japan or East Asia (…) It is a very transnational phenomenon.”
In a related vein, Santiago-based designer Bassi creates complex paper sculptures as part of his design conceit Cubotoy. The Cubotoy characters were invented by Bassi from a world of heroes and villains, while evoking figures reminiscent of “it’s a small world,” the Disney theme park feature. The paper toys are intended as a design tool for students and professionals to use in advertising, animation, video, and television and are given form through folds and precise scissor cuts.
The Chilean design collective gt2P (Great Things to People) is conducting perhaps the most audacious experiments with design and craft in Latin America today. Its designer-members Eduardo Arancibia, Victor Imperiale, Guillermo Parada, Tamara Pérez, and Sebastian Rozas experiment with new paradigms for the interface between traditional crafts and digital design. In their project Losing my America, realized in collaboration with Estudio Guto Requena and Ariel Rojo, gt2P investigates a hybrid production between “crafts related to pottery, wood carving, and metal casting in Latin America” and a scanned three-dimensional element that is meant to suggest “that crafts mixed with new technologies can become the link between mass production and mass customization.” As Losing my America reveals, despite the impression of Chile and Argentina as European-focused, indigenous cultures continue to prosper even if on the periphery.
This link between “mass production and mass customization” was also achieved in 12 Shoes for 12 Lovers, a series conceived by New York–based Chilean designer-artist-catalyst Sebastian Errazuriz. The series of shoes features twelve sculptural evocations of relationships that Errazuriz has had with twelve former lovers. Each pair is distinguished by its particular form or the character of the heel and was produced in the artist’s MakerBot Replicator 2X Experimental 3D Printer. The shoes were sourced from digital drawings constructed on a CAD program and are accompanied by a photograph and text that reflects the nature of the relationship. Each pair embodies romance, pathos, and even vengeance that could come out of only a specific attitude, worldview, and gender experience. This project exemplifies, in the words of Riya Patel, the potential for product design to function in the future “as a form of personal expression and art.”