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Cambariere: «In Argentina, design is still regarded as something frivolous, related to trends and fashions»

The writer, cultural manager, and journalist specialized in design, Luján Cambariere, analyses the link between Argentine society and design, while elaborating upon the power of the discipline to transform reality.

Luján Cambariere, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism awarded by the University of Salvador and a graduate degree in Communication Design awarded by the University of Buenos Aires, has promoted design in graphic media, television, and radio for more than two decades. Currently, in her role as curator of the Craft and Design Program “Saber Hacer, Hacer Saber”, subsidiary of the Vice-presidential Office of Argentina, approaches the creative activities and material culture from diverse social perspectives.

On this occasion, the author of The Soul of Objects: An Anthropological Approach to Design (Buenos Aires, Editorial Paidós, 2017) and Mastercraft: The Importance of Working with our Hands and Ten Ideas to Do it (Buenos Aires, Editorial Grijalbo, 2018) participates in the Expert Opinion section of December’s Old&Newsletter by sharing her point of view about the identity of design, its role in the media’s agenda, and the tangible impact it has in people's daily lives.

–What is your experience in the field of design?
–I am a journalist and a curator specialized in handicrafts and design with 20 years of experience. I am the editor of m2, supplement of the journal Página 12. I am also the creator and director of Design Attic, a school devoted to the discipline that offers different types of training programs and workshops centered on a diverse range of techniques and materials. Simultaneously, I manage projects aimed at implementing design as a vehicle for social inclusion within vulnerable groups and artisan communities. These projects have opened the door for my participation in some of the most important museums and biennial exhibits worldwide, such as the Malba (Buenos Aires); the Museu da Casa Brasileira, the Museu do Objeto Brasileiro, the Curitiba Biennial (Brazil); the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chile); the MAD Museum and the Wanted Design NYC (USA); the Biennale Internationale du Design of Saint-Étienne (France); the Ibero-American Design Biennial (Spain); the V&A Museum and the London Design Fair (England).

–What features define pieces that possess a fine design?
–Personally, I am interested in the human, social side of design; in the essence of objects and not in mere trends. That is why the parameters I set for design relate to its ability to envision a better world and to contribute solutions to actual problems. This is more relevant if we take into account the countless needs we currently have as a society –from health issues to environmental and social coexistence problems–.

–Is there a unique “Argentine design” identity? Is there a single “Argentine design”?
–This has been a recurrent question throughout my career as a journalist specialized in the matter, in fact, that is why I devote a complete chapter of my book to examine the DNA of design South of the planet. To me, this issue is fundamentally related to specific elements: the basic resource, which to me is the most important: imagination; the ability to modify and transform, as if it were alchemy, ordinary or discarded materials into valuable assets; fair trade and ecosophy in the sense that we conceive ourselves as part of nature not as its mere protectors. If I had to choose only one defining aspect, it would not be anything related to particular material or techniques linked to our territory, but the innate capacity of being resourceful.

–Is design socially valued in Argentina?
–No, I believe it is still considered something frivolous that is only related to trends and fashion. When I explain the relevance of design to a child, I always emphasize the fact that “design is everything, from a spoon to an airplane, including means of transportation and medical equipment”. When people listen to that claim they understand the social impact of the discipline and they realize how much they ignore about its potential and outreach. Fortunately, design is much more than producing beautiful tables and chairs.

–What is the significance of archives and design patrimonial collections?
–I think they are of the utmost importance, in particular for young generations of project designers and students. Knowing and learning from what others achieved beforehand is fundamental; more so in a world like ours that is saturated with objects and is in need of genuine innovation.

–What institutional conditions are required to accomplish it?
–I am not an expert on that particular subject but I fathom that it requires experts and money, two elements that are scarce in our country.

–Why is it that in Argentina, in contrast with the rest of the world, there are almost no museum spaces devoted to design?
–Because it is a new discipline that is not widely known and also due to a lack of resources. We do not have many exhibition spaces and, currently, there are no international fairs specially devoted to the field. That alone speaks for itself.

–What are the future challenges that will be faced by the design community?
–To me, the fundamental challenge is to understand the true scope of the discipline and to earnestly work accordingly. I mean, we have to build a community of committed and empathic designers that are less egocentric and more thoughtful for others’ needs worldwide.