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Bell: «The action of safeguarding the memory of design is even more important in this country, whose complex socio-political context threatened for so long the conscious acts of preserving and remembering»

Based on her personal experience, the director of Creme de la Creme project reflects about Argentine design, heritage, and idiosyncrasy.

Vanessa Bell was born in Paris, lived for more than 20 years in England, and, since 2010, resides in Argentina. Her mother is Argentinian, which motivated her frequent visits to the country before becoming a permanent resident. After establishing herself for good in Buenos Aires and as a consequence of her usual walking tours through the city’s contours, her curiosity led her to discover architectural “jewels”, particular features, and secrets, while learning undisclosed stories that moved her to dive into the urban maelstrom from a mixed standpoint: both a tourist and a local at the same time. Her project, Creme de la Creme, was born out of this creative, cultural, and project driven mapping process. It comprises from publishing photographs and writing social media reviews to the organization of personalized urban tours that merge art, design, fashion, and popular culture.
With the aim of showing a landscape unknown to many, she has written articles for several English language publications, such as Time Out, Wallpaper, The Independent, Monocle y Architectural Review. She now shares her vision regarding design and national production in February’s “Expert Opinion” section of the Old&Newsletter.

–What is your experience in the field of design?
–I moved to Argentina in 2010 to work as a journalist intern at Time Out magazine. I always wanted to write for Wallpaper, I accomplished that dream after my internship, it was the first article I got paid for. From then on, I became a correspondent for important lifestyle, design, and architecture publications worldwide, such as Monocle, Architectural Review, Dwell, among others. For that reason, I became a specialist on said disciplines with a particular focus on the Argentine context. I also organize interior decoration and design tours for foreigners interested in acquiring Argentine design to decorate their homes abroad.

–What features define pieces that possess a good design?
–I am not a designer but, as a critical journalist and from a personal point of view, I would say that the most important requirement is that it has features that makes it stand out from other creations, whether it is the piece’s originality or its practicality: the key issue is that it functions adequately without undermining its aesthetic qualities and vice versa

–Is there a unique “Argentine design” identity? Is there a single “Argentine design”?
–I think there are two parallel trends: hyper-modern design that, despite its usual lack of Argentine features, aspires to be recognized worldwide and to offer an aesthetic alternative of international appeal for local consumers; and a design that, inspired in Argentine handcraft legacy, incorporates native techniques and materials, while presenting contemporary adaptations that enrich its undisputable vernacular identity.

–Is design socially valued in Argentina?
–In Argentina, design is a complex subject matter. Having moved from London to settle in Argentina, I perceive that there is a generalized focus on the outside production, based on the idea that imported assets are the ones that pay off. When that is not the case, what prevails are products that emulate or reproduce some international style or trend. Poor imitations of massively consumed styles that eventually become common places, like the Scandinavian or Mid Century, abound and persist over time. National products are seldom valued.

–What is the significance of archives and design patrimonial collections?
–Archives and heritage collections are essential to foster and create awareness of our legacy. Through my work, I aim to highlight our experiences, our origins, and the country’s rich and unique culture. Journalists and historians who have access to archives and documents produce narratives and communicate their messages in a better way.

–Why is it necessary to safeguard the memory of design?
–The action of safeguarding the memory of design is even more important in this country, whose complex socio-political context threatened for so long the conscious acts of preserving and remembering. Publishing records produced thoroughly and systematically could provide an example that encourages other organizations and institutes to follow suit.

–What institutional conditions are required to accomplish it?
–In the first place, the classification of assets must be carried out rigorously, with coherence and uniformity. Besides this, the institution must offer a quick and simple system to access the collections.

–Why is it that in Argentina, in contrast with the rest of the world, there are almost no museum spaces devoted to design?
–Perhaps, at an institutional level, not much attention is paid to native design. That attitude, has an effect on the number exhibit spaces available to showcase such production and, of course, determines the budget allocated to boost design.

–What are the future challenges that will be faced by the design community?
–I think some challenges are related to budget and geographic issues, as well as to quality control problems. Sometimes, Argentine design has been limited due to the restricted access and high cost of imported materials, which inevitably impacts the process of designing products. These factors must be taken into account not only to boost local competition but also to enhance exportation and join international market dynamics. It is important to say that, at the same time, these “limitations” sometimes inspire the designer to find interesting solutions that result in original and innovative pieces born out of the initial “obstacles”.