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Arroyuelo: «In order for a design piece to be meaningful and perennial, tradition must, inevitably and unavoidably, be reconsidered»

With a wide experience in the field of specialized critique, the journalist Javier Arroyuelo, reviews and questions the connection between design and tradition within different geographical and historical contexts.

Writer, playwright, art reviewer, and journalist: Javier Arroyuelo is all that and more. Before emigrating to Paris, where he lived from 1969 to 2006, he co-created, alongside Rafael Sánches and Jorge Álvarez, the iconic record label “Mandioca, la madre de los chicos”, foundation stone of Argentine rock and roll.

Upon his arrival to France, at age 18, the Avellaneda native and graduate from the Buenos Aires National College began his vast career. In the field of theatre and drama, he wrote plays of remarkable resonance, such as Goddess, L'Histoire du Théấtre, Comédie Policière, L'Interprétation, and Succès. In 1975, after having been invited by Marlene Dietrich to participate alongside Sánchez in an end of the year special issue for Vogue Paris, he became a permanent collaborator of said publication until 1980. To create his section “Oh, les beaux mondes”, he trespassed, through his ironic and witty narrative, the backstage scenes of the cultural, artistic, and fashion universe in both Europe and the United States.

The profiles he wrote about iconic characters, as well as his chronicles, which merged the social scene with the design, were published in several emblematic magazines, like Vanity Fair, Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, Vogue USA, and Vogue Italia, where he collaborated on a permanent basis for 17 years.

In recent years, he wrote for The World of Interiors (United Kingdom), Anfibia, Crónicas de Moda (Argentina), CC Clásica y Contemporánea, and for the Kirchner Cultural Center magazine (Argentina).

In this occasion, accompanying the presentation of the Mary Tapia patrimonial collection at IDA Foundation, the current columnist of the publication La Nación Revista participates in July’s issue of the Old&Newsletter “Expert Opinion” section with a reflection about the crossing points established between design and tradition throughout the XXth and XXIst centuries.

–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design based on tradition? And redefine tradition from design’s perspective? Can either one be separated from the other?

–Design cannot exist without tradition, I mean, it cannot exist without references, without past baggage to support it. Tradition, on the other hand, needs to renovate itself constantly with elements from different time periods in order to survive, become legitimate, and be updated. To practice design, one must dive into and merge with a sequential chain meant to transmit knowledge and techniques. True imagination reshapes, with contemporary features, inherited elements that have revealed themselves necessary, functional, and appealing throughout time. In order for a design piece to be meaningful and perennial, tradition must, inevitably and unavoidably, be reconsidered.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?

Here, immersed in the context of the Foundation, the key reference would be Mary Tapia, a fashion entrepreneur with deep, national (federal, I might say) roots, that emerged in the 1960's scene, in the midst of the Torcuato di Tella surge. Her case is related to the implementation of textiles manufactured in creole looms, in particular the barracan and its multiple variations, in the creation of an apparel of classic, tailor-type garments decorated with equally classic elements, such as velvet. Back then, traditional clothes from different parts of the world revamped by hippie imagery, had influenced commercial European fashion in a self-rejuvenating dynamic. At the same time, it is important to highlight the fact that Mary Tapia followed the footsteps of Fridl Loos, an Austrian artist who moved to Buenos Aires in the late 1930’s, when she incorporated the barrancan and other northern textiles to her fashion creations, thus, initiating a fusion between modern design and ancient, native tradition, something we identify today as a classic element of wardrobe repertoire.

Everything we consider classic began as something innovative, modern. We breathe new life into tradition by confronting it in terms of its shapes but never in terms of its essence and functions. I sense that, in the period of modernity I have experienced during my life, no other aesthetic or intellectual concept has become as radical as minimalism, which is defined by the intriguing process of reducing form to the “less is more” principle. In my opinion, that has given birth to a new tradition. To me, minimalism is the most modern stage of modernity, with roots that lead back to Bauhaus, De Stijl, and Mies van der Rohe. I dare to claim that its cultural influence will keep on the rise due to the impact of artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Agnes Martin, Sol Lewitt, Robert Morris; architects like Tadao Ando; designers like Issey Miyake, who pinpoint the relevance of considering the interaction between body/garment, and Jil Sander, all of whom are undoubtedly present, with their individual work and as a diverse ensemble, in today’s collective imagination. As far as what we are interested in here, it is a complete area of current design.

–Has the bond between design and tradition changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of teaching, living, consuming, and interacting?

New technologies enable the discovery of the diverse traditions pertaining to all recorded cultures. It is very touching. It also depends on education respecting its own traditions (I do not think this is an actual concern, however, I must admit I am not updated in the complex and vital topic of education). The issue relies, precisely, on whether consumption practices go back to being a rational acquisition of goods. In other words, if we manage to free ourselves from the consumerist obsession that alienates us, the relationship tradition/design will very probably develop in the right direction. I am skeptical in that respect, particularly when I see how entities like Godzilla or Amazon keep growing in an uncontrollable way. Design alone cannot trigger social change, but it is an agent, a tool, and an emblem of its time, of the Zeitgeist. From that position, design has even anticipated some states of mind or états d’esprit, acting from the avant-garde, sometimes, in the past, from exclusive circles. Today, our consumerist society, craving permanent entertainment, demands that all products have an immediate and massive impact.

–How can we boost the potential of this pairing in order to produce innovative solutions that foster improvement in such areas as social inclusion, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental care, and access to education?

–Firstly, in relation to innovation in the field of design, by fighting consumerism while carrying out projects that foster integral living styles, that show awareness of diverse problems and of sustainability as an ideal, while daily enforcing responsibility and ethics as the basis of the creation-production-consumption dynamics.

Inclusion, properly understood, implies, above anything else, ensuring access to quality, ecologic design, devoid of any programmed obsolescence, for every group in the community.
Diversity, equity, environment, health, and education depend greatly on the State. I mean, a healthy, honest government that shows concern for those issues and has the required tools to support and nurture them is essential; a government that is prepared to confront the corporate ambitions and greed that currently rule markets. Those corporate interests are against education; they foster ignorance so that we cannot have informed decisions nor distinguish poor quality products; they aim at diverting our attention from design and tradition. It will be a long fight and we all must stay committed to get involved.