Ernesto Oroza: “Neutral design does not exist”

Being a designer is much more than designing. It means thinking about how you design, with whom and why. It is a way of thinking that must necessarily evolve hand in hand with your way of practicing. One of the leading experts on this form of thinking about design practice is Ernesto Oroza, a Cuban-born designer and artist who, after living for many years in Florida, came to Saint-Étienne, France, to lead the Design and Research program at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art et Design. In 1991, he also founded a journal, Azimuts, on research, with the participation of his students. I met him during a visit to Milan, for BASE, where he brought his testimony and his vision during the event presenting the new We Will Design residencies attributed to Davide Tagliabue and the Analogue studio, which the experimental center Milanese will inaugurate in December. Ernesto Oroza’s conference, promoted by the Region of Lombardy, was held within the framework of We will Design, a permanent laboratory organized throughout the year which will culminate in the FuoriSalone next April, when the great former Ansaldo building containing BASE will be open to visitors, with the presence of many young students and researchers (the call for applications for presentation of projects during the 2023 edition of We Will Design is open until December 16). Oroza notably spoke about his experience during the last International Biennale of Saint-Étienne, which ended in July, where he presented the exhibition and the manifesto “Inside production”.

Oroza’s work is based on the assumption that design is never neutral. “Those who say design has nothing to do with politics, ethics, ecology and the future do so from a position of power and privilege,” Oroza argues. “Design continually demands choices, which have implications for society and the economy. Design is a political subject. The theme of the 12th Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne corresponded perfectly to Oroza’s vision: the title was “Bifurcation. Choose the essential”, asking a radical question about the choices made in design and their implications. “Director Olivier Peyricot asked me to tackle the theme of production, Oroza tells me, drawing inspiration from my experience of the crisis in Cuba in the 90s and the way the Cuban people went through it. . The basic idea is that the division between research and practice is not real. Any design, to be defined as such, is a matter of research and constant questioning. In the exhibition, I did not wish to discuss the bifurcations that design may potentially have to make, but to physically create the conditions which oblige people to make such a bifurcation or such a choice. I invited people to find ways to work together”. The exhibition presented an experimental format: admission was free, free debates and discussions on the growing production of objects were organized, as well as performances by artists and designers. But the objects on display had a double function: to show the results of the most advanced research, while offering themselves as objects of daily use and reinvention by visitors.

There was Manuel Raeder’s Z-Bookshelf, which could easily be taken apart and reassembled in various ways, as well as David Énon’s modular lamps, which people could assemble themselves, and ordinary white plastic chairs (the one of the most common objects in the world) to repair or modify. Visitors and designers could meet according to a fixed schedule and exchange while working directly on the objects: a concrete way of understanding that people who work are always faced with choices, and that the best way to make a choice is to discuss them. together. “When I was a child in Cuba, I spent my time drawing,” recalls Oroza. “One day a relative put a broken fan on the table in front of me. A broken fan was a real tragedy in a hot place like Cuba. We tried to open it and fix it, and this action changed my perception, marking a real turning point for me. During the crisis of the 90s, the current died out in Cuba. Shops were closing, everything was missing. You had to reinvent, repair, reuse things. My temporary bench, which I made from two chairs and a plank of wood, became famous. This is what I now call a “placeholder”, a substitute for something. Design leads us to question our essential needs and the answers we know (or can) provide. Without any theory, going as far as practical applications”.

Photos courtesy of BASE Milano and Ernesto Oroza

01 BASE Milano
02 Portrait of Ernesto Oroza
03 12th Saint-Étienne International Design Biennale, exhibition “Inside production” by Ernesto Oroza, Neurchi performance by Thibault Le Page. Ph City of Design
04 12th Saint-Étienne International Design Biennale, exhibition “Inside production” by Ernesto Oroza.
05 BASE Milano, tel. Maria Teresa Furnari
06 BASE Milano, FuoriSalone 2022, We Will Design: the autonomous supermarket, by Francesca Tambussi.
07-08 BASE Milano
09 BASE Milan, ph Roarstudio
10 BASE Milano, FuoriSalone 2022, We Will Design: The Swedish School of Textiles Exhibition
11 12th Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne, exhibition “Inside production” by Ernesto Oroza, La Navette by Thibault Le Page and Kevin Zanin, photo by Kevin Zanin
12 BASE magazine, ph Luca Condorelli

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