Barcelona Cultura

Pepa Bueno: Disueño, at the intersection of art and design

Pepa Bueno is an Art Historian specialized in Design History. She has developed her professional career in the field of fashion press together with an academic profile, giving classes and talks in some of the most prestigious colleges and schools of the country. Since 2013 she has managed the Spanish Association of Fashion Creators (ACME), and was awarded the ADYMO Prize for Fashion Communication in 2017. 

On the occasion of the presentation of her book “Disueño. Cuando el arte y el diseño jugaron a ser lo mismo (1977-1979)”, taking place at the Design Museum of Barcelona next February 7, we talk to Bueno to explore what was a crucial episode of design in Barcelona.

What was Disueño?

Disueño was a show organised by certain people from the board of directors of ADI-FAD, at the end of 1970s. The idea was to display those design trends that had no place in the Delta Awards according to their origins. They had to be objects in production, in such a way that prevented a whole stream of interesting and experimental objects from being exhibited or presented, which at that time had a strong presence in the world of design.

What does the name allude to?

In some way, the general concept of Disueño was poetry, a poetic game that almost started from the name of the exhibition. The witty inventor of the word, architect Beth Galí, who was a member of the board of directors that set the project in motion, told me that by introducing a single vowel design became a dream. I personally think it is a very beautiful and enlightening way to explain it.

In the call for participation, the desire to verify the existence of new ways of interpreting industrial design is mentioned. What types of objects were part of the exhibition?

There were pieces in which design was not only understood as a tool at the service of utility, but also as a means of expression of other values, such as the new handcraft. Objects were contemplated as a field of experimentation and expression, and through them a more radical and irreverent design was showcased.  Experimental and investigative objects, beyond useful, according to the traditional concept of what was useful. They were not orthodox industrial pieces. Neither they were easily producible nor necessarily functional in themselves. There were some that showed these symbolic values in a graphic way, such as Carles Riart, one of the most well-known designers in the national scene. There were also useless objects, considered so by their designers, with a great sense of humour.

Those who took part in Disueño assiduously crossed the borders between art, handcraft and design. How did they assimilate these disciplines?

These behaviors were arising in international design and were reflected in this show. Objects were reclaimed as a part of the ritual and the liturgy of the quotidian. Up until then we didn’t talk about daily as something sacred, with symbolic values before functional, contemplation before use, the reclamation of traditional techniques as a value opposite to supposed technological advances… All these topics brought artists closer to design and designers closer to art. We can see this in some works of Àngel Jové, a renowned artist at the Catalan conceptual avant-garde that also entered the world of design. Home objects started being understood not only as a direct instrumental value, but also its symbolic character was recognized and art had a lot to say there, because what is an artwork but a piece with a symbolic value? Mixing, interacting the world of intimate and art was actually a speech that had a lot to do with the artistic avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century.

Shape played a pivotal role in the exhibition. How was this highlighted?

The three editions of Disueño presented works considered, by experts in Spanish design history, forefathers of what later was postmodernist design. Giacomo Balla’s reeditions, in the care of Santiago Roqueta and Ramon Bigas, are in those limits of poetic shape. So were Riart’s, such as Colilla light. In his own words, he says it is appropriated to listening to music, chatting, making love. It is applied symbolic values of use that were not usual in the early 1960s, and postmodernist design plays with that.

What was considered a good design, and how did this perception change after Disueño appeared?

Good design was traditionally considered to come from the functionalist school Bauhaus and later developed at the Ulm School of Design. This is what one could see in the Delta Awards. What Disueño did was to introduce elements such as the ritual, kitsch, scenography, expressive quality. Concepts that already existed in design but in a marginal way and tried to find their own space in the object culture by the late 1970s. What Disueño did ultimately was contributing to that showcase of objects that were already circulating in the market or were rather being produced, by providing an exhibition platform.

The book discusses the combative and irreverent attitude of the show. In which sense?

Through a sense of humor. It also has to do with neo-surrealism, the pop movements of the time and once again, we go back to design, assimilated in the [exhibition] discourse.

In what ways have Disueño’s proposals evolved since then? Has this practice become professional?

Indeed, these discourses have grown stronger as a design discipline in itself. We are not surrounded by simply correct objects from the point of view of use anymore. There is a whole line of combative design from the perspective of ecology, social rights, hyperconsumption; in the same way, there is an open and established group of designers that work with objects from symbolism. Usefulness goes beyond the simple use, because we don’t just use something for decisive reasons, but because it calls to our emotions. These projective paths are somewhat present not only in industrial design, but in any other kind of design.

Ajuntament de Barcelona