Flesler: «Design has not solved nor will it solve structural social problems until it becomes efficiently integrated into public policies aimed at expanding rights»
The professor, researcher, and coordinator of the Gender Unit of the FADU-UBA General Secretariat advocates for inter and trans-disciplinary approaches as a way to produce inclusive and intelligent solutions to long-standing problems.
Graphic designer and specialist in Theory of Communication Design with a degree from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), Griselda Flesler is one of the most renowned regional experts in topics related to the links that bind gender, design, and academic management.
“Nothing that has been designed (spaces, products, symbols, services) is neutral in terms of gender. When we refer to symbolic violence and of stereotype production and reproduction, we must take into account that architecture and design are key elements in the creation of socio-cultural patterns”, as is claimed in the introduction of the textbook used in her course Design and Gender Studies, at the School of Architecture, Design, and Urbanism (FADU-UBA). Based on this cross-disciplinary premise, the researcher and professor of the post-graduate course “Design, feminist theory, and gender studies: a theoretical and critical perspective on contemporary design”, also develops training-related projects implemented in such places as the Ezeiza Women’s Prison, as part of the XXII UBA program, and, within the UBA itself, servicing the university’s faculty members.
She was a permanent collaborator of tipoGráfica magazine, where she was in charge of the section “Archive” until the publication’s closure. She is currently the general director of the Public Voices project, a collective sound recording archive of feminist manifestations in different Latin-American public spaces.
She has offered conferences in several American and European institutions and has published more than ten articles about design and gender in specialized media. Besides co-organizing the “First Academic Meeting about Design and Gender Studies” at the American Art Institute of the FADU-UBA, she has participated in many national and international design encounters and biennials, being the keynote speaker at the 2019 DiSUR Congress.
In June’s issue of the Old&Newsletter “Expert Opinion” section, she reflects about the crossing points among design, future, and gender.
–Can we rethink or redefine the meaning of design based on knowledge? And re-define knowledge from design’s perspective? Can either one be separated from the other?
–It could surely be re-conceived; however, I am not interested in thinking things “from a design-centered perspective”. I have never done it and, quite honestly, I am not good at it. I am, on the other hand, interested in an inter and trans-disciplinary vision. In this regard, I find that conceiving the world based on specific interests is a barrier that prevents devising encompassing solutions to address diverse problems. It sets limits as to what you can or cannot analyze and plan. That is why, in order to be able to design, we must take a look at other worlds; at the same time, in order to plan the future, we must rely on different disciplinary fields.
When someone defines what classifies as future patrimony material, we are determining what becomes useful and what is conceived as obsolete; instead, I am interested in analyzing and conceiving things from the multiple categories and universes they belong to. Many times, what we assume will be functional in the future relates more to our present context. I am a science fiction fan and I can assure you that if you read Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles you learn much more about the aftermath of WWII than about an imagined future. Similarly, just as it happens in science fiction, in all design “for the future” we can find today’s agenda; and that agenda, by the way, is never innocent. There is no way of conceiving the future outside our present categories: there is nothing outside our framework of possibilities.
–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?
–Someone once told me that producing projects is to trust in the future, to show the will to redesign the world, that is the result of —as Otl Aicher would say— understanding “the world as a project”. That premise sums the ideal of modernity, which, as many scholars have already explained, has failed. I think that politics and science are concrete tools for transformation. I believe that design alone is not enough.
Unfortunately, we still follow compartmentalized rationales that hinder discipline-transcending practices. In my perception, one case that merits mentioning is UBATEC, in particular its design projects. As is explained in its website, UBATEC is “one of the first units devoted to technology linkage and transfer in Argentina, it provides services related to innovation management, technology transfer, technical assistance, research funding administration, promotion of technology-based enterprises, and management of projects and programs aimed at fostering productive development”.
Any project that can put into practice such rationale would certainly appeal to me and would represent the future dynamics that I want future generations to experience. In any case, I must accept that I am very pessimistic about the future because I believe that, regrettably, it will lean towards a tight vigilance of all types of borders: boundaries related to discipline and practices, as well as those referred to bodies and spaces.
–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?
–I have not researched that topic and I would not like to answer the question based solely on common sense. I can only say that design, as we understand it today, has probably existed for a century. In its early days, design was founded on the premise that it made life easier, more simple, functional, and efficient. Its aims today are the same. However, right now we live in an extremely unequal world, increasingly afraid and vigilant of anything that seems different, eager to erase minorities. It is very likely that design, indeed, has contributed to improve and simplify people’s lives, nonetheless, I want to point out that design has not solved nor will it solve structural social problems until it becomes efficiently integrated into public policies aimed at expanding rights. I live in a city where people die because they lack access to basic living conditions (running water, for example) needed to be clean and protected against viruses, like it happened a couple of days ago to a 42-year-old woman. Period.
–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?
–Design created envisioning its future implementation must surely share those objectives. In the first place, I think that design formative programs should incorporate those tenets in an organic way. They are still considered “special topics” in many instances. In the case of gender perspective in design, the field I have devoted my professional work in the past 15 years, I have observed an increased interest in incorporating such an approach within different spheres, however, we must remain alert to prevent mere “pinkwashing” practices. That is, supported by the institutional interest in incorporating a gender perspective (meaning transgressions to heteronormativity, because the incorporation of feminism requires a critical and proactive spirit) we must aim to explore existing tensions by posing the question: Are there limits as well as conditions of possibility within resistance and transgressive practices? There are always limits in manifestations that deviate from the norm because they are still bound to hierarchies.