Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou is one of Latin America’s most prominent cultural icons. Her seminal collection of poetry, Las Lenguas de Diamante was published in 1919, and brought her critical acclaim across the Spanish-speaking world. In honour of the book’s 100th anniversary, and in recognition of her impact on Uruguayan culture as a whole, designer Matteo Fogale has curated an exhibition of design objects inspired by her poetry, for the Uruguay XXI pavilion at the upcoming London Design Festival (September 14-22, 2019).
The showcase, titled Poetic Forms, will feature works by Muar, Estudio Claro, Estudio Diario, Menini Nicola, Izzi, Carolina Palombo, Tosca, Rafael Antia, Samago, Manos del Uruguay, and Micaela Pita - each of whom will present new work that has been crafted in response to a specific poem from Las Lenguas de Diamante.
Matteo Fogale, who is of Uruguayan origin and now based in London, speaks to STIR about the exhibition, and offers insight on how the collaboration between poetry and design is not as unusual as one might expect.
Avantika Shankar (AS): What inspired you to work with Juana's poetry?
Matteo Fogale (MF): For this year’s Uruguay XXI exhibition at LDF, I wanted the designers to be inspired by one Uruguayan artist. I held a workshop with the participating studios to come up with ideas around this concept. Someone proposed Juana de Ibarbourou, which I fell immediately in love with. I liked the idea of the designers taking inspiration from words as opposed to something visual or an object. It was a more interesting challenge and I was curious to see the outcome. I also liked the idea of working with a female artist who has played an important role in Uruguayan culture, but who is not widely-known throughout the rest of the world.
AS: What is the process of using a piece of literature as inspiration for a design object?
MF: Juana’s poetry is very interesting because of the way she meticulously describes the relationship between nature, the body and her surroundings, providing strong inputs to inspire shapes, materials, colours and textures. (Like) poets, designers have special powers when it comes to imagination and expression, with the ability to translate emotions in shapes, as poets do with words.
AS: Are there any interesting moments of deviation in the series, for example, a unique use of material or form, a surprising interpretation?
MF: I am happy that Manos del Uruguay is involved with their blankets and throws. I think Uruguayan wool is a beautiful material, and since most pieces exhibited are furniture, it is lovely to have something different on show. I also love their design process and values.
In addition to wool, we are also presenting some precious national stone, steel and ceramic, which is exciting. It is great to see how the designers have interpreted the poems so differently, some using words or expressions as direct reference and translating them into something visual – others using them as an inspiration or a starting point to create something completely unique with strong poetic character.
AS: Could you tell us a little about contemporary Uruguayan furniture design, and how this exhibition works in that context?
MF: I think this exhibition shows the collective spirit of Uruguayan designers, as have the previous three editions. Historically, Uruguayan design has had a very strong European influence, but we have the ability to work with locally sourced materials. As an example, EstudioTosca uses precious national stones, such as Agates, Amethysts, Jaspers and Quartz, to produce unique, almost sculptural pieces. Another good example is Manos del Uruguay, a collective of small cooperatives located in remote villages in the Uruguayan countryside. Here, artisans spin and dye their locally-sourced yarns, to then knit and weave beautiful textile products.
We are extremely energetic and enthusiastic about what we are doing and want to go out in the world to show what we are capable of. Every year, Uruguay is presenting itself stronger and we are building up a unique and distinguished character.
As a showcase of contemporary talent that takes its inspiration from cultural heritage, Poetic Forms celebrates the duality of indigenous design. This will be trade agency Uruguay XXI’s fourth consecutive run at London Design Festival, and in addition to representing the country’s cultural heritage, this particular exhibition is also aimed at promoting Uruguay as a destination for natural, sustainable design. For Uruguayan designers, the platform is an opportunity to make their mark in the world of design. Uruguay is a country with a strong sense of tradition, but as Fogale says, it has “a global vision that makes it very special.”