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Mercé: «If design can’t be one step ahead of what we experience as a society, then it will hardly be of any use, and, consequently, will not be appreciated»

The architect, journalist, and editor Cayetana Mercé, discusses the importance of reviewing official design narratives and demanding long term public policies aimed at effectively consolidating national production.

Regardless of the fact that she graduated as an architect, Cayetana Mercé has become one of Argentina’s most renowned journalists specialized in design. She worked as an editor of the Clarín journal supplement ARQ and of Summa+magazine. She is currently one of the partners of Teal, the strategic communication and digital marketing agency.

As one of the field’s feminist icons, she created the network soyarquitecta.net and joined the group “One day, one female architect”, aimed at validating and recovering the work of women in the area of project development. She was co-coordinator of the “Women and Architecture International Encounter” (2015) and of the cycle “Crossings. Architecture and City Meeting Points” (2017).

Invited to collaborate in the Expert Opinion of December’s Old&Newsletter, the SEO editor of Clarín shares her vision about patrimonial archives, identity in cultural material, and design’s social, political, and media value.

–What is your experience in the field of design?
–I am an architect, graduated from the University of Belgrano in 1989, and I have always been interested in communication. That interest encouraged me to follow a different approach to my career, one that is closer to a critical conception of the professional practice rather than being focused on projects and management, like the classical model is. Of course, one of my lifelong interests has been the History of Design, Arts, and Architecture.
After my graduation, I began to work in specialized media. I was a member of Summa+ for ten years, thus learning about the publishing industry. I had an amazing mentor, Lala Méndez Mosquera, with whom I shared many professional experiences; a similar relationship developed with Ángela Vasallo, designer during the magazine’s first stage.
A few years later, working as a content producer and editor, I worked as the editorial assistant of iF magazine, publication of the Metropolitan Design Center (CMD), and chief editor of the books Argentine Industrial Design (Florida, Franz Viegener Press, 2011) and Ricardo Blanco Designer (Florida, Franz Viegener Press, 2011), in both projects I worked alongside Ricardo Blanco and Juan Cavallero. I also did the editorial work of Design Archive by Clarín. I must mention as well one of the most touching projects I have worked on, the book Churba: 30 Years of Design (Buenos Aires, Infinito Publishing House, 2008), for which I was part of a team led by Alberto Churba himself.

–What features define pieces that possess a fine design?
–I think that, first and foremost, it must provide solutions to specific problems in an innovative way regardless how complex it may be. It is important for it to be produced locally and in a sustainable fashion besides having market value and, of course, design quality.

–Is there a unique “Argentine design” identity? Is there a single “Argentine design”?
–There are great Argentine designers, but I doubt there is a particular identity. Of course, a “local color” exists, but I think identity is constituted in a different way. In order to achieve that, specific national, long term policies that require an allocated budget must be carried out.

–Is design socially valued in Argentina?
–Yes, but in a very small scale. The measure in which it is socially valued does not have enough impact to transform the big picture. Who is benefitted by the solutions offered by designers for specific problems in our country? How many designers are called upon when urgent issues related to urban development, engineering or economy arise? How many designers are involved in design processes and participate from the digital shift currently experienced in the industrial sector? A few, less than what is needed in my opinion. It is an issue related directly to education. If design can’t be one step ahead of what we experience as a society, then it will hardly be of any use, and, consequently, will not be appreciated.

–What is the significance of archives and design patrimonial collections?
–All archives–not only the Design related ones– are crucial for societies since they assure the preservation of collective memory. The accessibility to the archives and the sources of information they safeguard is also very important. Working as a journalist, I have experienced the absence of archives, documents, and historical records about Design, and in particular, about Argentine design. For many years, the only way to obtain such information was directly from the designers themselves, through testimonies based on their memory, which was the only source of information we had to support our research and articles.

–Why is it necessary to preserve the memory of design?
–Design is culture, it is a picture of society that records the transformation of traditions as well as the technological and scientific innovations that develop through time: thus, it is unbelievable that we lack the historical records of such an important discipline that touches us every day and in every moment.

–What institutional conditions are required to accomplish it?
–I am not an expert on that subject matter. In my opinion, though, it must be an open, modern, and inclusive institution that has strong connections worldwide and supports experimentation. Such an institution must not become a temple devoted exclusively to honor design’s “great names and personalities”.

–Why is it that in Argentina, in contrast with the rest of the world, there are almost no museum spaces devoted to design?

–We are a bizarre culture, quite unstable and prone to forget. In our country, regardless of the fact that design exists and has its own development, the discipline has not been able to impact industrial production processes, at least not in a significant way. The history of Argentine design is the history of designers, written and told by themselves. It is not a history based on a rigorous scientific methodology, as such, it is very subjective: this condition makes it a weak narrative without a proper conceptual framework.

–What are the future challenges that will be faced by the design community?
–Interdisciplinary integration, joining production processes, understanding the new needs developed within a society that is currently disoriented by so much technological transformations, and, mainly, reformulating the basis and aims of design education. Designers will have to reflect about their community in order to debunk canons that make us lag behind and also to pay homage to great masters while learning how to let some of them go, particularly the ones that no longer respond to the requirements imposed by a new time and a new society to exercise the discipline.