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Gallardo: « I don't think collective identity is a required condition for design production, but it is a fundamental trait of memory, conceived as both a support and a compilation of acquired knowledge and personal experiences»

Architect, designer, and professor Jonny Gallardo explains why the obsessive search for a particular identity may lead to the exclusion of key elements that constitute society and its history.

Born in the province of Córdoba, Jonny Gallardo graduated as an architect and, throughout his career, he has also developed industrial design projects and performed as a professor. He is currently a member of the faculty and head of the Furniture Design specialization program (DiMu) at the School of Architecture, Urbanism, and Design of the National University of Córdoba (FAUD-UNC). He also teaches in institutions of Uruguay and Paraguay.
As a researcher and PhD candidate, he has lectured about furniture design in universities not only in Argentina but also in other Latin American countries. His pieces have been exhibited in Frankfurt’s Modern Art Museum (Germany), the Arts Museum at the University of Guadalajara (Mexico), the Chair Museum in Asunción (Paraguay), the Movelsul Fair in Bento Gonçalves (Brazil), and the Nuova Tendencia exhibit in Rome (Italy).
The director of Jonny Gallardo & Associates studio reflects about the key role of memory for the future- building process in the Expert Opinion section of January’s Old&Newsletter issue.

–What is your experience in the field of design?
–I am an architect. I have my own studio and I have always worked independently. I have had the chance to work closely with icons such as Ricardo Blanco, Víctor Bentolila, Biagio Cisotti; I have met a lot of people that have helped me, sometimes even without being aware of it as it often happens in this field. I come from a truly provincial environment –a town within the Córdoba region named Hernando– and I belong to the first generation in my family with professional studies, something that was only possible due to the access to public universities, a policy that I will always vouch for. My experience with design relies on three structural foundations: the professional practice, the academic production, and a thoughtful approach to publishing work.

–What features define pieces that possess a fine design?
–First and foremost, it must achieve the goals set by the people involved in the project: among which we can include the client, the client’s client, the designer, and every person that participates in the production. Then, all products should give a plus, something extra provided by the designer, a quality that goes beyond the mere technical features of the object. That additional element, which may or may not be visible, can be functional, formal, productive, symbolic, etc. Fine design is appreciated, mediocre design fades away, and bad design is forcibly endured.

–Is there a unique “Argentine design” identity? Is there a single “Argentine design”?
–I don’t think so, neither do I consider it to be a necessary feature. Somehow, collective identity is a negative sign because it excludes many identity elements we do not deem valuable, even when they are also constitutive of who we are. As Fernando Fraenza claims: “Identity is designed by excluding the elements we do not want to be identified with and the ones that are inconvenient to be associated with”.
Memory is much more important than identity for that matter. Memory encompasses the knowledge and the events that have built us, it is not selective, and it includes both the positive and the negative elements which have equally formed us.

–Is design socially valued in Argentina? Do enterprises value it?
–I think, in general, design is not valued by society, just a few, sophisticated communities appreciate it. Usually, only the groups that have their basic needs covered do so and, in this country, we are far from that situation. Some products are indeed more valued than others but intangible qualities are neither understood nor recognized.
Companies, on the other hand, have been immersed in a slow but promising appreciation process that have encouraged designers to work with them for some years now. This is a consequence of the profession’s growth and the development of Design schools. An achievement won despite the perennial obstacles of Argentina’s socioeconomic context and market arena, where companies interact. Some entrepreneurs have understood that design is to a company what a brick is to an investor: a real asset that does not depreciate, a safe value.
In any case, companies are not the only favorable sites for designers to work; other institutions, organisms, associations, foundations, chambers, and publishing houses are suitable areas for them to develop as well.

–What is the significance of archives and design patrimonial collections?
–This question is closely related to my previous reflection about “identity”. I don't think collective identity is a required condition for design production, but it is a fundamental trait of memory, conceived as both a support and a compilation of acquired knowledge and personal experiences. In this sense, archives and patrimonial collections help fulfill this need.

–Why is it necessary to preserve the memory of design?
–Without memory, everyday would be a new beginning, as if we were newborns…; and newborns can’t grow without constant protection and nursing. Only memory –both tacit and explicit– provides the knowledge that is required to be independent and unique. Even instinct relies on memory to make decisions, personal memory as well as the genetic memory of our species. As Jean Paul Sartre once said: “Man, without support nor aid, is perpetually condemned to invent man every instant”.

–What institutional conditions are required to accomplish it?
–First, it must have a clear set of goals under the direction of a leading team constituted by designers-curators. Then, it must work within a wide scope that includes the national territory in its entirety and considers different historical periods. It usually happens that exhibits or publications deceitfully promise to deliver a “history of Argentine design” when in reality their curators and publishers hardly include anything beyond the General Paz Avenue.

–Why is it that in Argentina, in contrast with the rest of the world, there are almost no museum spaces devoted to design?
–That is a positive thing. Museums are bourgeois venues, outdated mausoleums that only hide what should be in the open, accessible for anyone to see. I don’t think design belongs in such institutions. Museums are built only in main cities, within the most upscale and better equipped neighborhoods. People do not attend museums, only tourists, mostly foreigners, visit them. It is fine to include in museums iconic pieces and design artwork that are key to tell the story of a specific place since they will bear witness to specific social processes. In that respect it would be valuable, design as part of a community’s heritage, alongside other cultural elements, but never a s a “museum of design”.

–What are the future challenges that will be faced by the design community?
–Currently disciplines experience a process of permanent reconversion and re-focus. Design and architecture, of course, are no exception. The boundaries of knowledge are blurry; we constantly make new discoveries. Today, design is an activity fundamentally linked to economy, despite its origins as a tool to oppose the bourgeois and conformist culture. Thus, the challenge is to recover those primal values. I would be ecstatic if design somehow helps to prevent the complete imposition of capitalism.