gt2p: Losing my America

While Chilean design is booming, gaining global recognition, traditional handicrafts are largely being left behind. In an attempt to bring these craftspeople to the attention of the wider commercial design industry, gt2p aims to create a network of traditional Latin American artisans.

While the role of handicraft in industrial and product design has long been the subject of debate, in the world of tourism no such qualms seem to exist. I've been making my way around South America for the past two months, and regularly witness the delight of a tourist upon the purchase of a new “hand-crafted” item – whether a llama jumper in Bolivia or a mate gourd in Argentina – the notion that the object was made by hand in a traditional manner, specific to the local area always seems to appear to travellers.
Opening and above: Estudio Guto Requena, Parametric Des-Aparecida
Perhaps design's unease with traditional craft comes from its own peculiar relationship with the makers. A product designer who wants to make work in glass often doesn't have the skills or the expertise in the material (or even the inclination) to make the product themselves. Instead, the take their designs to the glass-blower who makes the piece. In this relationship, particularly in “high-end” design, the focus is on the intellectual property, rather than the maker of the actual object. Given that so often the name of the designer appears on the finished product, rather than the behind-the-scenes glass-blower perhaps it's no wonder that the debate about the importance of craft in design has continued for so long.
Losing My America, Vicson
Many of these questions are at the forefront of Losing My America, a new project by Chilean design collective, gt2p (good things to people). While Chilean design is booming, gaining global recognition year on year, perhaps with the exception of the tourism sector, traditional handicrafts are largely being left behind. In an attempt to combat this neglect, but also to bring these craftspeople to the attention of the wider commercial design industry, Losing My America aims to create a network of traditional Latin American artisans and facilitate collaborations with designers and manufacturers across the globe.
“We wanted to increase recognition for the work that the Chilean craftspeople and other traditional craftspeople are doing, so that these things aren't lost in the future,” says Guillermo Parada, one of the partners of gt2p. The studio approached Brazilian gallery Coletivo Amor de Madre about the project, and soon had two other Latin American design studios on board: Ariel Rojo of Mexico and Estudo Guto Requena of Brazil.
Estudio Guto Requena, Parametric Des-Aparecida, detail
Because gt2p is a design studio, however, Losing My America isn’t as simple as tracking down traditional craft projects and inserting them into the database. Instead, each individual project works as a collaboration between gt2p and the artisan, with a particular focus on gt2p’s obsession with blending analogue and digital technologies (see their “analogue parametricism” project). “We wanted to show the loss of resolution in the traditional work,” says Parada. When I say I'm not quite sure what he means by that, he tries to explain: “it's partly about the loss of visibility of the traditional craft, but it's also that when we make the “new” piece for Losing My America, we want it to be obvious that the ‘new’ piece isn’t exactly the same as the original piece. We achieved this by trying to bring in the visual idea of low-resolution to the ‘new’ piece.”
gt2p, Jar 1
A good example of a particularly successful collaboration is that between gt2p and potter Teresa Olmedo, an artisan from Talegante, a town not far from Santiago in Chile. Polychrome earthenware arrived to the area in the middle of the 19th century and has been practiced by Ms. Olmedo's family for five generations. The clay is used primarily to model scenes and figures from traditional Chilean life. The decorative scene contributed by Ms. Olmedo is that of a woman baking empanadas in an outdoor brick oven, a typical scene in the Chilean countryside. To recreate the piece, gt2p 3D scanned each of the clay figures in high resolution before using a progressive polygonal reduction technique to exaggerate the effect of the digital changes made to each piece. While the initial pieces were then 3D printed before being hand-painted in the traditional manner, in the case of mass production, 3D printed plaster cast moulds would facilitate faster production methods while in some senses returning to more traditional methods.
gt2P + Coletivo Amor de Madre, CNCA, DIRAC + Teresa Olmedo (artisan), The Ovenera. Photo gt2p
Another piece, the striking result of a collaboration between Studio Guto Requena and Sutaco, a community of artisans in Sao Paulo, is a new take on a traditional wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. Where the artisans use gouges and other woodcarving tools to fashion small statues of Mary on cherubic bases, Guto Requena bluntly chopped the original wood statue in half to reconstruct the missing section from 3D-printed gold metal, again making the collaboration obvious through a new visual language.
Ariel Rojo + Angelica Moreno + Angelica Coyopol (artisan), Talavera de la Reyna, Puebla, Mexico
Losing my America had its first outing at this year's Milan Salone, via a preview in the Cappellini showroom. Indeed, Cappellini seem rather smitten with the project and have indicated an interest in producing items from the project's collection, or even commissioning individual craftspeople for new projects. “Cappellini is such a family affair,” says Parada smiling broadly, “and the daughters loved certain pieces in the project, so I think that may have worked in our favour.” Later this year, at “New Territories: Design, Craft and Art from Latin America”, New York's Museum of Arts and Design's much-anticipated exhibition about Latin American design, the final collaborations will be displayed, providing hopefully as much a catalyst for debate as well as beneficial opportunities for these previously unseen traditional artisans.
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