Brazilian design has come a long way. No longer clinging to the fame of the Campana brothers for its viability, young designers are redefining the term, carving a niche for themselves and using ingenious ways to do so. Combining traditional materials, crafts, and working methods with a feel for minimalism and a regard for the handmade, the products are at once distinctive and very much in sync with the worldwide wave of consciousness. With emerging and established designers joining forces, and collectives being formed with the attitude of exchanging experiences, Brazilian design is surely on the up and up.
To understand the Brazilian design scene of today, it is necessary to take a broader and more realistic look at the country, and to overcome the romantic notion of Bossa Nova or the vibrant rebelliousness of Tropicália.
The masks have fallen off – not the Carnaval ones – and the nation of the World Cup and the upcoming Olympics once again faces a moment of deep transformation: political, economic, social, and cultural. That’s nothing strange to Brazilians, accustomed to a diverse and dynamic country, and at the same time anxious and reckless. While the population celebrates the folkloric festivities, as they always have done, it is fearful of the unknown future. Rising above the growing euphoria is a feeling of imminent crisis approaching at a frightening speed.
For designers, who are sensitive to Brazil’s cultural heritage, ethnic diversity, natural resources, and all the multi-coloured qualities of the country, there is a harsh reality that they, too, must accept. And the harsh reality is that design needs incentives – industrial, economic, and cultural. Having said that, the designer has never been so dedicated to building her/himself a market; understanding the power of the collective and flirting with the industry, while rescuing the ancient craft techniques. New creators realise the need to expand the horizons, the need for experimentation and for improvement, in order to react appropriately to the situation at this moment in time.
But firstly it’s important for Brazil to acquire its own aesthetic, or maybe many different ones, and to stop paying homage to its European roots and to modernism, in order to embrace new ways. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Two decades ago, the Campana brothers showed us that it is possible, and gradually design has become more and more plural and less an imitation of Fernando and Humberto’s universe. Along with the widely promoted collage technique and the appropriation of unconventional materials, there’s a complementary tendency based on more contained forms, a kind of attempt at minimalism and pre-industrial processes, such as can be seen in the experiments by designer-duo 80e8.
Difficulty still exists for those with ideas that fall outside the standards of the Brazilian furniture industry, which is limited, being based mainly on wood technology. But many designers have also returned to the basics, practicing the craft of woodworking with great commitment, knowledge, and ecological awareness. While natural and handmade processes are being rediscovered by the new generation worldwide, really remarkable works are being produced in Brazil, as in the case of Ricardo Graham Ferreira, Rodrigo Calixto, and Rodrigo Silveira.
Another driving force in this search for alternative production is the research being done on sustainable materials and techniques – from traditional reuse, like Brunno Jahara’s Plástica collection of bowls and lamps created from different shapes and sizes of bottle caps, to experimentation with raw materials, as in the work of Mauricio Affonso with the loofah and its properties (malleable, structural, and acoustic), and Domingos Tótora’s impressively sturdy furniture made of recycled cardboard.
In the current scenario, there’s still sufficient space for inspiration in popular culture and the influence of crafts, such as in the works developed by designers Sérgio Matos and Marcelo Rosenbaum, that blend materials, themes, and traditions with social inclusion, working with communities and contemporary design. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the present moment is that of emerging partnerships and the appearance of design collectives, formed by creators interested in exchanging experiences to promote a market closer to their efforts and with a greater participation in the creative economy, without losing their individual identity.
That’s very much the case with collectives that unite young designers with more established names, as with the ‘Armorial Group’, with Zanini de Zanine and ‘Invasão’, working together with Rodrigo Almeida and Carol Gay. Waldick Jatobá is a curator fully dedicated to the recognition of these new creators, in other projects as well, like the MADE fair (Market. Art. Design) – an annual event of ‘collectible design’ and an important showcase for the new generation; it is responsible for the debut of many promising figures.
This year (2015), MADE is venturing across the Atlantic to take part in Milan’s Salone for the first time, presenting a collection of indigenous stools from the 19th century alongside a selection of contemporary works that have in common ‘the truth of the material’. Brazil’s young designers seem prepared to show that they are competitive, unique, and promising – and that although as a nation we can still love our modern rosewood furniture, respect the native culture, and admire the Campana brothers, we are not committing any sin by diving into the new.
This article was originally published in DAMNº magazine 49