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Churba: «The meaning of ‘good design’ is certainly much more linked to responsible consumer practices than to a model based on disposable, mass production»

The designer, textile manufacturer, and creator of the brand Tramando reflects about the holistic conception of design and invites us to rethink consumption habits.

Martín Churba is one of Argentina’s most renowned designers. Owner of a proactive spirit and trained in both performing arts and graphic design, he had his first experience in the field of clothing with the project TrosmanChurba, a brand he co-created with his former partner Jessica Trosman in the 90’s.

In 2002 he founded Tramando, a company that enabled him the setting in motion of a true creative factory that produces for Argentina and the world. He puts into practice his formal, material, and conceptual research as he develops fabrics, garments, and, even, objects meant to “dress” the house.

The interior architecture of his stores, the setting of his window displays, the performative presentations of his collections, and his advertising campaigns reveal his commitment to avant-garde and integral design. Decided to create transversal projects linked to strategic development, he has undertaken ventures alongside such artists as Nicola Costantino, Pablo Reinoso, Guillermo Kuitca, Clorindo Testa, and Pablo Siquier, while promoting alliances with artisan communities and political groups.

In the past years, after leading more than 70 employees, he has re-converted his company with the aim of producing in a smaller scale in order to focus more on experimental endeavors and reflect about his work. Directly linked to this transformation, he presented in 2019 his collection “Stock, Divine Treasure” featuring recycled fabrics, leftovers from previous creations.

Motivated by the forced isolation derived from the pandemic, Churba broadcasts from Mondays to Saturdays a home-made program in his Instagram account to “beat the quarantine”. He uses everyday items and tools to cheer up his large audience and encourage followers to manufacture “useless creations” to pass the time. The result: objects, paintings, and clothing items –such as masks, intervened garments, and coats– that have been stripped from any formal, utilitarian, or typological preconception.

This time, the winner of the Platinum Konex Award, has been invited by IDA Foundation to participate in May’s “Expert Opinion” section with a reflection about the connection between production and design.

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

–I can give two different answers. The first one is that no, they definitely cannot be separated from one another. Today, more than ever, it is mandatory to conceive processes as a whole and understand them from a systemic perspective. This is represented in the circular economy model, which highlights the need to trace the history behind every product; in other words, to know who made them and how, with which materials and where do those came from.

Today, top sellers are the ones that can foster within their “tribes” a commitment with the history and the productive chain linked to the items they buy. Of course, these are opposite parameters to the ones that rule a capitalist economy, which are closely tied to fast-fashion; however, the meaning of ‘good design’ is certainly much more linked to responsible consumer practices than to a model based on disposable, mass production.

This new reality encourages enterprises, in particular those linked to design, to reconfigure themselves and disclose their circular nature. In other words, they have to show that their products are not created out of depredatory practices, on the contrary, whatever was taken to manufacture it was somehow returned afterwards.

On the other hand, I also think that separating manufacturing and creative processes —I prefer to exchange the term design for the latter one— has become a significant practice. Right now, facing a pandemic that has forced the migration of commerce to online platforms, we are implementing dynamics that push us to generate a “creative surplus”. It seems that now, like never before, the fundamental role of creativity within processes is clearly recognized.

To sum up, there is a systemic approach in which circular economy symbolizes the ties that bind production and design, while, simultaneously, there is a critical urge to create content, original products, and new consumption paradigms. If we were to discuss the new birth chart of the pair production-design, we would find the sun in the house of creativity.

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

–One case in which production and design show an empathic and systemic symbiosis is the collective of artists Mondongo. Its work is not only compelling and amazingly creative but it is also chained to a production process that refuses to follow established formulas through permanent reinvention. That example clearly shows relations within a system; in such experiences, the flutter of a butterfly wing in one part of the plan always impacts the whole project, thus, creation and production mutually backfeed one another and become one.

Another example is set by Juana Molina’s work in music and visual arts. As a performer, after searching for new, different sounds she ended up creating a music sub-genre. In this feat, her production style becomes fundamental for the product’s outcome. This feature defines all of her work, it is evident even in the images she creates for Instagram, painting clouds and making shapes. It also happened back when she developed characters as an actress. Her pieces become stronger and unique whenever she dares to reconfigure and deconstruct productive methods.

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

–Since the beginning of the XXIst century, the relationship between design and production has been changing very much, particularly due to the “activation” of intangible production as content and the notable increase of information consumption. This situation encourages us to revisit the long-standing Oriental perspective on the matter, which considers as important the material nature of an item as the idea that it inspires. When I traveled to Japan, I realized that there, a product is not only valued as a product but, more importantly, for what it represents, what is thought to be.

Somehow, human beings are evolving in a way that is enabling the realization of the fact that ideas have a direct impact upon material life. In this sphere, the spiritual element is not merely chained to a church or a god, it reveals itself in ordinary instances: our products have a spiritual aura that lies beneath everyday objects, it is tied to their cultural symbolism.

Now, we even have the individual freedom to assign a personal, intangible value to the things with which we establish a relationship. In that arena, this interplay expands into the sphere of symbolism and symbolic creation. Today, the intangible is possible: we live in a non-material world, we can have disembodied orgasms and share intangible joints from our personal computers or cell phones.

There are some aspects of reality that resemble the fiction we apparently inhabit, which, in effect is not fiction but rather a reality penetrated by the fictitious nature of images. This provides us with almost an absolute freedom to imagine new scenarios beyond the ones linked to our present context.

–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?–

–It is very interesting to reflect about that duality as such. When I do so, the first thing that comes to mind is agriculture, and along with it, the possibility of eating and living.
Therefore, I think that the unit creation-production or design-production is going back to its initial state, an origin that happens to be the antithesis of going to the supermarket to buy breaded beef while thinking the product was “made” there: something which is far from reality, since breaded beef is a piece of cow.

I mean, all these filters —breaded beef, plastic tray, retail price, and, even, the productive dealings leading to the production of the beef— alienate people, as inhabitants and consumers, from a reality that is far more overwhelming than the softened experience provided by supermarkets, in this case, eating an animal. If we could get flashbacks of the productive process of every product we take from store shelves, our choices would be very different.

Another illustrative example, though a bit crude, is toilet paper. To get it we need to leave the house, go to the store, buy the product, and fulfill a lot of things that are way more uncomfortable than just using the bidet. Who decided that toilet paper was the best way to clean ourselves and what other alternatives have we experienced?

Cases like the ones above, so precise and basic, are completely linked to the idea and ways of production, as well as to consumption practices. I am totally convinced that we are undergoing a suitable moment to reassess and question the origin of things and the motivations of actions. There are elements of design present in our lives that, once they are thoroughly observed through the magnifying glass, can be decoded in cleverer ways.