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Muzi: «Design must experience an uplifting and inclusive transformation that not only takes into account the original knowledge of native cultures, the trans-species biology, and philosophy but also gives voice to feminist and other ignored claims»

Backed by her vast career in the field of communication of material culture within specific social and political contexts, the journalist and design specialist, Carolina Muzi, analyzes the discipline’s current state of affairs and future challenges it will face in an ever changing world.

Born in 1965 in Bahía Blanca, Carolina Muzi is a journalist with a title in Social Communication from the National University of La Plata (UNLP).

Since the beginning of the 90’s, she worked as a journalist for Clarín newspaper and its VIVA magazine. In 2003, she introduced design into Argentine mass media through her weekly section in the published supplement ARQ and, later, through her work as founder and director of the journal dni (National and International Design). According to herself, during those years she tried to “connect local, regional and global issues with a single narrative about the present that addressed untold stories: everything that went on behind the curtain, the reasons that explain the ‘things for life’ or, as Gerardo Clusellas accurately and beautifully phrased it “the scope of design”.

Devoted to narrative research, historiographic recovery, and material culture communication, in 2003, she organized “Memory Bridge” at the Metropolitan Design Center. The event, that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Industrial Design Research Center (CIDI), gathered about twenty of its key associates. Years later, based on the material integrated to the Pepe Rey archive, she published A History of the CIDI, Booster of Design in Argentine Industry (Buenos Aires, CMD, 2009), a priceless document for students and researchers interested in the discipline.

She published the books Argentina, Territory of Design (Buenos Aires, CCEBA, 2010) and Divine Barolo (Buenos Aires, ZkySky, 2013), and collaborated in the publications Fair of the Americas, Invisible Avant-garde (Mendoza, Foundation of the Interior, 2012), Design in Argentine Industry (Buenos Aires, Ministry of Industry, 2014), and Argentine Furniture Design and Production 1930-70 (Buenos Aires, ARCA, 2016).

Furthermore, she has lifted such periodical publications as, Maíz, journal of the School of Journalism and Social Communication of the UNLP; IF, printed by the Metropolitan Design Center (CMD); and CIA, published by the Buenos Aires Artistic Research Center.

Among other exhibitions, she curated “Genealogies of the South”, in the Buenos Aires Latin American Art Museum (2007); “Mate, Argentina’s Sap”, at Tokio’s Jetro Center (2007); el Pabellón del Bicentenario “Argentina Diseña”, en el Festival de Diseño de Londres (2010); “Argentine Industry Off-On”, at the former ESMA (2013); and “A Chair, Two Houses, Two Cities” (2019), a visual essay about César Janello’s W Chair. Co-created with Guillermina Mongan, it featured material lent by IDA Foundation and was showcased in the Glass space of the Emilio Pettoruti Provincial Museum of Fine Arts in La Plata.

While being in the process of editing her next book, a compilation of texts by Basilio Uribe, founder of the CIDI, Muzi collaborates in the “Expert Opinion” section of April’s Old&Newsletter issue with a reflection about the ties that bind design and society.

–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?
–Design cannot be isolated from society simply because society is design’s purpose of existing-producing. Society cannot disconnect from design either since it is the discipline with the best potential to link social and scientific knowledge in order to solve, in a practical way, diverse aspects of life, on every scale, and within the parallel virtual sphere. The current global crisis has disclosed this interwoven fabric: from isolating skins, respirators, communication, and interfaces, to apps and the use of Big Data in the fight against the virus dissemination.

If society and design, through their innate bond, work as a systole-diastole, both of them must be mutually re-configured. In each society (nation, region, etc.) this process will be mediated by universities and other public institutions linked to the State, as well as through the private logics imposed by the market.

It seems likely that design will continue being capitalism’s armed wing for the rest of the Anthropocene, however, on account of the irreversible damage done to the Earth after two centuries of trade based on extraction and exploitation, social control, rights denial, subjection of communities, sectors, and other species, the awareness of designers is starting to change, as well as the significance of their practices.

The borders of design are now open to society and that is great news: today, as never before in history, humankind is moved not only by need but by desire. Thus, great gestures of solidarity emerge within collaborative movements, something evident, for example, in global feminisms. Within John Thackara’s unmissable macroscopy, In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World, Nobel Prize winner economist Herbert Simon claimed: “Whoever produces action plans aimed at transforming current situations for the better is designing”.

Throughout this century, design has and will be a key discipline to determine bio-political processes oriented to alleviate social and environmental issues. As part of its mutation process, design must experience an uplifting and inclusive transformation that not only takes into account the original knowledge of native cultures, the trans-species biology, and philosophy but also gives voice to feminist and other ignored claims. Design training will have to comply with the standards of a new society by adjusting its commitment to social, natural, and biological sciences, as well as with cybernetics; and sharpen its awareness by promoting design practices empathetic to popular demands, environmental fights, pro-diversity and decolonization movements, and a broad scope of dissident groups. To this effect, an old quote by Jean Baudrillard becomes meaningful again: “To re-state, aware of what has been lost and anticipating what comes, is our fatality of sorts”. It is not pessimistic, the time has come to reboot ourselves as humankind / system.

–What cases, actors, products or elements related to Argentine and international culture embody an uplifting experience of that sort?
–The period that ensued the 2001 crisis originated interesting and emblematic cases. Many of them remained in the backstage of academic and independent research, causing almost no social impact. One of these was Contenido Neto, Alejandro Sarmiento’s PET bottles recycling project. Despite not being able to consolidate due to ineffective management policies and community training, it did promote this material resource and provided a technique at a time when waste collectors were not used to separating plastics. The project delivered a simple yet sophisticated tool —one that stems directly from the first local, creole implement (the small knife and the bone to manipulate cow bowels)— useful to obtain a free material capable of covering both rural and urban domestic needs efficiently, at a low cost, and without producing waste that, in Argentina, was not primarily recycled. Even the fact that Sarmiento did not care at all about patenting the project’s name reveals the absolutely social orientation of that cultural design event.

The work created by designer Constanza Dellea in a partnership between the National University of Avellaneda and the Nadia Echazú Textile Cooperative, a group of transvestites and transgender people, is meant to service a vulnerable sector of society and to facilitate its emergence from street life.

Another example are the projects devised by the team of designers from the IPAF Pampa Region (Small-Family Agriculture Institute), an organism linked to the INTA (National Institute of Farming Technology). They respond to basic needs, such as procuring pasteurized milk by developing a machine to pasteurize packaged milk; or by creating efficient kitchens adapted to Chaco’s mountain region, thus providing solutions in terms of transportation, healthcare, and shelter within a hostile environment.

The apps created with the purpose of helping women protect ourselves from gender violence at home and in cities are developments that share the anonymous mark of collective creations. Some of the covers designed by Alejandro Ros for Soy magazine are manifestoes that push for giving voice to marginal groups and expanding rights.

The design produced by Tiago Ares and Polenta Studio for Plan de Quinta, which was implemented by the national State, is a priceless example —probably the most important one— of social design in recent Argentine history. The LifeStraw, designed by the Danes Jean Luc Madier and Alison Hill, used to purify water is saving lives in Africa. From an environmental perspective, the Precious Plastic machine, created by Dave Hakkens with a Creative Commons license, allows everyone to copy the mechanism to synthesize used plastic and transform it into material.

Materialities could become, in my opinion, one of the central nodes where society and design will be able to boost new perspectives.

**–Has the bond between design and knowledge changed throughout the XXI century as a result of new technologies and new ways of learning, living, consuming, and interacting? **
–The bond has changed a lot, however, not enough as it should. The change has not been oriented towards the desired direction either, since the strongest thrust keeps following the path of consumerism and superficiality in every sphere. One thing that has not changed — a problem that has troubled design since its inception as a discipline in the XXth century— is the way it is understood. Besides being misunderstood and not conceived within its social dimension, design has been downplayed, particularly in the mass media.

On the other hand, innovation has been historically celebrated as a feat of technology, not related to people or social processes: a huge mistake that we have also inherited from a XXth century conceptual framework. As Franco “Bifo” Berardi claimed in Phenomenology of the End, “with the technological transition towards the digital realm underway, we have arrived at a breaking point regarding the decoupling of empathy and social bonds”.

Design must help the situation return to a sustainable path. That is its XXI century mission: to retrace and mimic, escort and participate from people’s diverse transitions and journeys, from their travels between countries or continents to the crossings between gender identities or between physical and virtual life.

**–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? **
–By opening concepts, staying in touch with reality, including its socio-political and environmental processes. By not voting in favor of neoliberal proposals. By forgetting for a while the XXth century agenda that still dictates the course of events disguised with XXIst century products and terms.

Within the design arena, research must be bold enough to be transdisciplinary, questioning “truths” and outdated assumptions, producing new narratives, listening to voices that reflect a rational and intelligent train of thought, analysis, and argumentation. There are many of such voices. I am personally interested in Donna Haraway’s proposals for a new civilization. Her last book, Staying with the Trouble, blends utopias with science facts and small-scale stories based on experiences that hint at a multi-species alliance.