Time, Space and Design in the Margins

A biennial’s theme tends to be sufficiently vague to accommodate some latitude of interpretation. It’s not supposed to be taken too seriously, just an opening line to move the conversation along. This year’s theme – “It’s About Time” – puts forward time as a subject, meaning perhaps the relationship between design and time-based media, or maybe suggesting a reflection about history. However, the expression also suggests an undertone of impatience, of haste, of an achievement that has come too late.

That is somehow fitting, because design, as a discipline, is by definition impatient, always in a hurry to get to some future state, some future goal, the very word “design” suggesting a project, a scheme, a plan – something that gives form to the future. Moreover, throughout its history, design has presented itself as a modern endeavour in the sense that the ideal designer should live in that tiniest moment between the present and future.

Yet, in a place like Portugal, modernity is not always seen in terms of time, but also in terms of space. In the margins, modernity is something that hovers in the future but also “out there,” in the great centres, the places where things actually happen. This idea of modernity experienced as geographical space in the periphery, was developed by Arjun Appadurai, in his book Modernity at Large, and raises important questions as to the role played by design in places like Portugal.

In the periphery, design functions as an obvious index of modernity. It represents development, sometimes in a not entirely honest fashion. Its presence seems to prove that a certain level of social comfort as been reached. However that is not necessarily true. Neither design is a reliable symptom of prosperity and social progress nor, in most cases, it is a solution to developmental problems.

French theorist Michel Foucault believed that power was not a force that could be exercised from afar, but that it had to be represented in the places where it is exercised. For a place to be peripheral in relation to a far-off centre, this power relationship must be represented in the periphery itself, the place where it is put into effect. Arguably, design in a peripheral place tends to represent the idea of periphery, embedding it in its objects, its strategies, and its institutions.

Since successful architecture tends to monumentalize the social order of the locations where it is built, Portuguese architecture is a good place to look for these representations. Architecture, as design, is the result of complex negotiations among very different actors and concerns; these negotiations determine forcibly the formal decisions involved in any project or design object. In the buildings of Alvaro Siza and Eduardo Souto Moura, for instance, there is often the idea of a boundary between inside and outside that, for practical purposes, hides them from the exterior. The effect is of an enclosure of extreme modernity that can only be accessed through a process of spatial mediation – in fact, an objectified act of translation. In these buildings, design functions as a device that delays the access to modernity, in the very place where it is enacted, turning effectively space into time.


[...] Blog da Experimenta Coloquei um post no blog da Experimenta sobre tempo, espaço e design na periferia. [...]


[...] EXD 09 Por uma série de razões pessoais e profissionais, este ano não posso ir à Experimenta. É uma oportunidade perdida, estou mesmo infeliz, mas já me mentalizei. Ainda assim, vou participar em dois projectos. Numa exposição chamada O Que é Urgente Mostrar, comissariada pelo José Bártolo do Reactor, que conta com cartazes da colecção Ernesto de Sousa e de Aurelindo Jaime Ceia, BarbaraSays, Braço de Ferro, Diogo Vilar, Drop, Martino&Jaña, Paulo T. Silva, R2 e que inaugura amanhã, dia 9. Participarei também no blog da Experimenta, com um texto que deve estar pronto lá para o final da semana. Update: já está pronto. [...]