The New Language of Latin American Design

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By Patrick Sisson / Published by Dwell
An exhibition showcases the experimental edge of the region's design culture.

The exhibition "New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America" casts a wide net across cultural hubs, resulted in an energetic, often riotously colorful chorus of young voices.  

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Ikono Chair by Claudia & Harry Washington (2010)

This wooden chair with woven PVC string is a product of the Carrot Concept, a studio space and design incubator in El Salvador. The designers updated the classic circle chair concept with artisan weaving techniques.

"Since the 20s and 30s, there’s been such a strong design history [in Latin America]," says Lowery Stokes Sims, curator of the exhibit, which runs from November 4 through April 6, 2015 at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. "I really wanted to focus on young designers, because that’s where I saw new dialogue growing out of tradition and legacy."

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Meteoro by Vladimir García Bonilla (2013)

These fire-finished ceramic planters, suspended between slender bars of powder-coated aluminum, are a riff on a type found in mid-century Puerto Rican homes.

The conversation Sims seeks to amplify reaches out in multiple directions. From Mexican designer Edgar Orlaineta’s sculptural work, which repurposes pieces of Eames chairs as part of a post-modern design statement, to numerous installations and furniture pieces based on upcycling and reimagined craft traditions, Sims found many designers creating their own hybrid practices.

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PET Lamp by Alvaro Catalán de Ocón (2012)

After witnessing how washed up plastic bottles were littering the Amazonian watershed in Colombia, designer Alvaro Catalán de Ocón instigated a community of creative reuse, recruiting indigenous weavers to turn the discarded containers into brightly colored lamp shades.

"You see the upcycling and environmental consciousness in a lot of work," says Sims. "A really prevalent theme is young designers committed to working with traditional folk art and indigenous communities, meaning their design practice works as a direct economic engine."

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Canasto Lamp by José Roberto Paredes (2013)

Another Carrot Concept piece, the flexible lamp, which can be easily moved from desk to side table with its wooden handle, derives its silhouette from traditional woven baskets.

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Totem after Ettore Sottsass by Edgar Orlaineta (2013)

An example of Latin American craft that "[presents] a response and challenge to international icons," according to curator Lowery Stokes Sims, this wire-framed shelving system by the Mexican artist is a playful take on Ettore Sottsass's iconic Carlton bookcase.

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The Spaceship by Glimpt (2012)

This alien invader-like piece, the results of two Swedes (Mattias Rask & Tor Palm) in collaboration with Peruvian craftsman from the Crafts Cooperative, Artesanos Don Bosco, reflects an outsider's view of local culture and mysticism.

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Double Barrel Lamp by Raul Cabra, Emily Jan, Rie Hirai Dion, Michele Marti, Zak Timan and Maria Magdalena Angeles (2009)

A Venezuelan-born educator and designer working in the Bay Area, Raul Cabra took a class to Oaxaca to craft these lamps with local artisans as part of the Oax-i-fornia design exchange.

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Double Seat Barrel by Rolando Pena (2013-2014)

This Venezuelan artist and designer upholstered a pair of steel drums to create a series of sleek yet industrial seating.

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Blowfish Lamp by Raul Cabra, Lander Cruz, Serena Franklin, Lydia Davis, Emily Jan, and Sarahi Garcia (2008)

Another in a school of handmade lighting pieces designed by Professor Cabra's class and Oaxacan craftspeople, the Blowfish Lamp represents the fruit of a hybrid creative process that benefits from immersion and open exchange.

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Mask II (DCW) After Charles Eames by Edgar Orlaineta (2013)

Orlaineta turns iconic Eames chairbacks into fantastical, almost anthropomorphic readymade sculptures.

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Cactus Light by Studio Swine (2012)

Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves scavanged and sandblasted waste wood and beer bottles to create this standup succulent lamp from the streets of Sao Paulo.

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Stray Bullet Chair by Design de Gema (2011)

Created by David Elia, a protoge of the Campana Brothers, it's not surprising this upcycled piece brims with personality and pique. Seating caught in the crossfire, it was inspired by a real-life bar shootout.