Engaging with Portuguese Design
A fascinating exhibition at RISD showcases contemporary work using traditional materials and techniques and kicks off a multiyear collaboration between RISD and several organizations in Portugal.
The exhibition juxtaposes traditional work like this dress by Ana Salazar with contemporary pieces like this chair by Toni Grilo.
In conjunction with Rhode Island’s Month of Portugal celebrations, which launched on June 10, RISD has partnered with the Embassy of Portugal and the Museum of Design and Fashion (MUDE) in Lisbon to host How Do We Pronounce Design in Portuguese?, a cross-disciplinary exhibition of work by contemporary Portuguese artists. On view at RISD’s Sol Koffler Gallery through August 3, the show explores what it means to be Portuguese in terms of contemporary material culture and the global market.
The exhibition also marks the beginning of Resources and Places, a multiyear initiative focused on research and study of cork and other softwoods in the context of Portugal. Through the collaborative program, RISD is working with the Luso-American Development Foundation (FLAD) and FLAD’s Study Abroad in Portugal Network (SiPN), among other global partners, and Corticeira Amorim is providing materials support.
“This program will enable students and faculty to engage in a series of reciprocal academic exchanges with an extensive network of academic, governmental and non-governmental organizations across Portugal,” explains Gwen Farrelly, executive director of RISD Global.
As it unfolds during the 2018/19 academic year, the initiative will also encompass collaborative studio- and liberal arts-based inquiries designed to engage faculty and students in innovative approaches to applying material resources indigenous to Portugal across diverse industry sectors. The first year, faculty members in Liberal Arts and the departments of Architecture, Furniture Design, Industrial Design and Interior Architecture will develop a longer-term approach to these investigations through a series of studios and courses offered on campus and in Portugal. They will also welcome Portuguese artists, scholars and designers to Providence, a city that is home to vibrant Portuguese and Portuguese-speaking communities.
The design exhibition, curated by Bárbara Coutinho of MUDE, initially traveled to Beijing, Madrid and Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. The smaller iteration on view at RISD this summer focuses on Portugal’s younger designers and is intended to shed light on the many ways they’re using traditional materials, techniques and manufacturing processes in the realms of furniture, fashion, accessories, decorative objects and jewelry.
One of the themes of the exhibition highlights the predominance of form over ornament. “We are faced with designs that have a structural solidity and are formally stripped down with little or no decoration, notable for their austerity, solid nature and balanced proportions,” notes Coutinho in the exhibition catalogue.
Other pieces, like a trio of colorful vases by Alda Tomás, are clearly influenced by “the other,” representing Portugal’s openness to incorporating, reinterpreting and reinventing influences from England, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. “The exhibition proposes dialogue between different eras, designers and languages,” Coutinho adds.
Sustainability is also a driving force behind the exhibition, with many designs on view that reuse everyday materials such as bicycle wheels, fruit boxes and strips of fabric. Overall, How Do We Pronounce Design in Portuguese? demonstrates how contemporary designers working in a culture known worldwide for its distinctive craft traditions reflect changing relationships with the objects around us—inquiries that RISD and MUDE are deeply committed to exploring.
—Simone Solondz / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
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