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the office of culture and design
THINK OF DESIGN as problem-solving, and that the idea of good design becomes subjective, depending on the problem it is solving. It can mean a useful app, an iconic architecture, or good roads. Basically, design’s main goal is to make our lives easier.
By “us,” I mean the lucky ones with comfortable lifestyles in the city. Most of us don’t really get to think about how design can reach far outside the comforts of urban living and stretch to involve heritage sites and communities. That’s where the Of ce of ulture and Design steps in, a private group headed by creative director lara Balaguer who established it in as a platform for artists to create projects that aid the developing world. Big words lara begs to differ. Using art and design as “tools for progress” is a concept that can be quite hard to grasp. In that sense, how would you put the work of the Office of Culture and Design simply? I would start by saying that we use progress in its non-loaded sense. Using design and culture as tools for progress doesn’t, for us, buy into this grand narrative of Progress linked to technocratic, infrastructural, or philosophical superiority.
By progress, we mean realistic things. A more open mind. Better sensitivity towards gender equality. A bit more money every day to bring food to the table. More pride in one’s own culture and less of a feeling of inferiority towards other, more “progressive” cultures. In a nutshell, I would say what we do is give value to the overlooked portions of our contemporary material culture that are slipping through the cracks, that are not being documented with rigor and criticality for posterity. Even more simply put, we do cultural projects for underserved communities, with a strong commitment to research. What’s the most interesting or significant project you have worked on so far? Embarking on a publishing and design hauz has been what’s been consuming most of our time lately. onsolidating the process of our projects into printed formats proves to be a good strategy for bringing the work to a larger audience, and that’s been a very interesting learning curve.
But in terms of social signi cance, I would say our last endeavor, a textile residency in Bohol—with two Photo by Stefan Kruse Jørgensen. RISO Readers #1 and #2: Tribal Kitchen:
The Aytas (blue) and OCD Notebook Catalogue students from Rhode Island School of Design, funded by the Maharam STEAM Fellowship for Applied Arts and Design—has been eye-opening. I’m currently in the evaluation phase for the project and I feel like Dye Trying (that’s what we called the book about the project, and it’s sort of the fond nickname for the entire project itself has had the most impact. Our ndings and recommendations throughout the residency process have been effective at in uencing policy for the loom-weaving co-op we worked with. Their institutional partners such as the European hamber of ommerce and DTI have identi ed the natural dye research we did as a developmental priority for the Tubigon Multi-Purpose oomweavers ooperative. DTI has invited us to share our insights at their regional planning session held just this month, and I think we might also have had something to do with a production manager being trained and hired for the coop in the last few months. The institutional partnerships we built during this project were key to its effectivity post-implementation. Who would you like to work with in the future? “Roosmarijn Pallandt, who does these amazing carpets with weavers from all over the world. The woven patterns are based on Google Maps imagery. Paul Pfeiffer would be another dream collaborator. I saw his last exhibition Vitruvian Figure at the Museum of ontemporary Art and Design, and absolutely loved the sports and synchronized choreography-declamation pieces done in video. It felt like he has this same soft spot for Filipino popular culture (and the secondary market). I have also been trying to gure out how to build a project around the comedic millennial genius that is oco uizon, but I don’t think she knows I’m big of a fan of her Twitter. Also, zar Kristoff’s photographic work on vernacular architectural constructs, speci cally focused on tarpaulin, quite takes my breath away, as I’m also obsessed with the ennobling the use of tarpaulin.” Your work on documenting Philippine graphic design trends and publishing it as Filipino
Folk Foundry is very fascinating and puts the general design landscape in contrast with foreign ones. Why do you think it is important to do this, and what have you learned from the project? It’s important to document our visual material culture with critical rigor because if we don’t, it will disappear without our having learned anything from its existence. What I learned from FFF is that we hold very little stock in the importance of vernacular Filipino aesthetics, but nevertheless feel absolutely okay with co-opting and appropriating and sanitizing it. I also learned that classic sign painters are some of the most talented graphic designers in the Philippines, except they have no idea that what they are doing is in fact graphic design. You have a publishing arm, Hardworking Goodlooking, and as I’ve experienced, the art of publishing is technically the art of editing, or curation, as some would say. “Curation” is actually a word young people like to throw around these days. For you, what does it take for a person to be a credible curator and why is it important? I try not to use the word curator precisely because the curatorial has turned into coffee shop parlance. Only when the conversation is about actual curatorial decisions, in terms of putting together a cultural program with a clear line of investigation, do I use the word. Also, I am not so sure if I know what it takes to be a credible curator—perhaps working at an actual art institution to stage challenging and uncompromising shows, with a surrounding body of intelligent (written) discourse? Realistically, though, if you know the right curator-friendly keywords and utter them often and convincingly enough with panache, you’ll probably have a great chance of getting mistaken for a curator. (
Photo by Wawi Navarroza. Left: An Auto-Corrected Journal of Printing Properties… edited by Disclab, designed by Lobregat Balaguer and Stefan Kruse Jørgensen. Right:Filipino FolkFoundry, an OCD research publicationon vernacular typography in the Philippines, designed by Dante Carlos andKristian Henson.