Claudia Moreira Salles presents an oeuvre of convergence at Museum Oscar Niemeyer

Form and Matter highlights the idiosyncratic liaison between art and design. STIR explores the exhibition through a conversation with Salles and curator Waldick Jatoba

by Divya MenonPublished on : Feb 19, 2022

Art and Design - between them the line is thin, boundaries often mixed, their mutual affinity strong like allies and yet, they can often be like sparring partners caught on the cusps of existence.

In a world characterised by impermanence and volatility, art and design too have succumbed to the dramatics of CHANGE - the only constant the world has seen yet. Set against the backdrop of this changing landscape of life, art and design are in a state of flux and the words assume several implications beyond their physicality.  Necessity, emotions and a plethora of other parameters have come to define design as we have it today. For Waldick Jatoba, curator of Form and Matter, former curator of the Brazilian Pavilion at London Design Biennale, design is more specifically a desire. He believes designers must use their ability to provoke this desire as storytellers.  What perhaps sets them apart is that while contemplation as a visual aid is sacrosanct to the process of art making, designers are guided by functionality.

Installation view of Form and Matter  | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Installation view of Form and Matter Image: Eduardo Macarios

Industrial design has always been regarded as a male stronghold. Making a dent in a male bastion, Brazil-based designer Claudia Moreira Salles, whose craft lies on the border between art and design, straddles both worlds with practised ease. The exhibition Form and Matter by Salles at Museum Oscar Niemeyer (MON) at Curitiba, is curated by Waldick Jatoba and showcases 44 unique objects. The featured furniture designs spark a desire in the viewer and have launched a chronicle on how art and design blend into one another and trade borders to manifest masterpieces born in the ingenuity of a sensitive designer. The show is stately needless to say, abounding with several interesting elements ranging from materiality to form and functionality and is undoubtedly a case study on the changing canvas of design in Brazil and the world beyond.  

Curator Waldick Jatoba and Industrial Designer Claudia Moreira Salles  | Waldick Jatoba | Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Curator Waldick Jatoba and Industrial Designer Claudia Moreira Salles Image: Courtesy Divya Menon, Andrés Otero

Jatoba, Salles and STIR sat down to map the mind-boggling trajectory of design, as several borders crumble, birthing a narrative on the seamless canvas of creativity dotted with objects born in necessity and serendipity alike. A whole new world arrives as they explain how designers blur the differences between the two worlds through a consummate process of reflection, imagination and intuitive practice that breathes life into an object. 

Wall illustrating the exhibition layout | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Wall illustrating the exhibition layout Image: Andrés Otero

Divya Menon: Could you explain your curatorial objective for Form and Matter? What does the viewer take home from this show?

Waldick Jatoba: When Claudia started her practice, her attention and focus were invested on wood as her primary material and she spent years trying to master the material, its behaviour and the technicalities of working with it. For a little over a decade now, Claudia’s canvas has expanded considerably with the inclusion of several other materials along with wood, such as concrete, cement, stones, textiles, ceramics, metals and so on.  The goal was to therefore create a show that would reflect the entire gamut of her practices and explain how different materials can be combined to create a symphony. Claudia is an intuitive designer who uses a variety of materials to tell stories about her creations and interestingly, there is a narrative behind each of her creations that sets her apart from many others of her generation. To help viewers form a connection with the pieces and develop a better understanding of what has gone into their creation, we placed on the walls of the white cube gallery space, photos of every stage of creation, studies, notes, plans, sketches and graphic designs along with the actual object on the floor. The experience of viewing enriched with new awareness and information is what viewers walk away with from the show.  

Installation view of Form and Matter | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Installation view of Form and Matter Image: Andrés Otero

Divya: What were the challenges en route Form and Matter?

Waldick: The design and scenography of the show was planned in Sao Paulo where the pieces were developed.  However, the venue of the show Museum Oscar Niemeyer being in Curitiba, several hundreds of kilometers away from Sao Paulo, the transportation of the works across the long distance posed the greatest challenge. 

Divya: Would you regard the show as pluralistic or minimalistic?

Waldick: It is pluralistic in the manner in which the show stimulates interest in the viewer’s mind through the intelligent use of different mediums that help them absorb the show, such as photos, 3D objects, sketches and so on.  Meanwhile, it is also minimalistic in the precision of the creations, from materials to the form.  The simplicity of the objects imparts elegance and brings great emotions to the fore. 

Installation view of Claudia Moreira Salles’ Form and Matter  | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Installation view of Claudia Moreira Salles’ Form and Matter Image: Andrés Otero

Divya: Could you explain the role of the Museum in a city like Curitiba?

Waldick: I think that MON in Curitiba plays a very important role in the design scene in Brazil.  It is one of the very few museums with a dynamic calendar of design shows. Among its program of shows throughout the year, a few are only related to design. Further, its strategic location in the south of Brazil where there are many furniture manufacturers plays a critical role in imparting education and sharing information.

Divya: With design becoming more like art, how is the element of functionality affected? 

Waldick: Designers of the 80s and 90s were guided by the philosophy that function follows form. However, today, with the influx of different types of materials into the arena, I strongly feel that materials follow form, functionality, in turn deciding the outcome of the product.  The designer of today experiments with materials, testing them with the aim to dominate them.  Emotions are important to manifest the element of mystique in their creations or else we will have nothing in terms of pure design. On this score, I regard designers as storytellers who are able to bring life to the object by choosing the right materials and experimenting techniques. 

Installation view of the exhibition  | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Installation view of the exhibition Image: Eduardo Macarios

Divya: How would you define design and how different is it from art?

Claudia Moreira Salles: Design is simply both - easy and complex.  Richard Serra, famously stated that the ‘Drawing is a verb’ and this is what comes to my mind when I think of design.  I believe design too is a series of actions and processes starting with reflection and understanding a purpose, choosing, testing and exploring the materials, sketching, re-sketching and at times even throwing away the sketches, all contribute to design as a process. There is always a premise that one needs to follow, a problem that one needs to solve through design which has its own language and vocabulary.  However, when it comes to art, there is no pronounced function.

Installation view  | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Installation view Image: Eduardo Macarios

Divya: In your designs, how do you combine functionality, spontaneity and your  creative instinct?

Claudia: Functionality is second nature to a designer, a part of everyday life. Wherever I go and whatever I touch, there is a subliminal effort to understand and experience the function of the object. Therefore, for most projects, the takeoff point is functionality.  However, having said that, there are also times when the function is very obvious and I would like to create something very different from the ordinary. I particularly enjoy combining different materials because each material brings with it a certain emotion and imparts a certain quality to the creation and together, they manifest an experience which is unique. To achieve this, I begin with rationalizing the idea, followed by sketching and tweaking; and often surprise elements join through a process of reflection and contemplation. Functionality, instincts and other desires are all part of the creative method. 

Detailed view of the displayed objects | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Detailed view of the displayed objects Image: Andrés Otero

Divya: Form and Matter is a retrospective show, in this regard does it portray your journey?

Claudia: The point of departure of this exhibition was more about linking things that belong to different periods. All the pieces in this show have a connection, perhaps in their materiality, construction, lightness, balance etc. and therefore the aim of the show is to reflect the concepts and principles of creation, to show the interplay of materials and so on. 

Detailed view of the installation  | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Detailed view of the installation Image: Eduardo Macarios

Divya: What are the most interesting parts, as well as challenges, of the creative process?

Claudia: Different textures, surfaces and materials create different sensations.  Showing how these materials can be combined, to manifest a desired sensation are all interesting aspects of designing.  And, the challenge is always to make pieces that make sense and serve a purpose.

Installation view at Museum Oscar Niemeyer | Waldick Jatoba| Claudia Moreira Salles | Form and Matter at Museum Oscar Niemeyer, Curitiba, Brazil | STIRworld
Installation view at Museum Oscar Niemeyer Image: Andrés Otero

For Salles, incorporating a ‘difference’ into her creations is not at the core of her practice and is most often guided by function which takes on a broader meaning than the immediate purpose of creation.  It could be an emotional element that dictates the path of creativity. She says, “I feel the same feelings triggered in me when I admire a wall clock by Max Bill as when I look at a Donald Judd creation.  It is the trigger that excites me as a designer”.  When design serves a function and also ushers in a visual, emotional and intellectual experience, the boundaries between art and design fall. 

What do you think?

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