Interview with Emiliana Design + David Torrents, designers of the exhibition «The Best Design of the Year».
In 2015 FAD made an open call to commission the design of the exhibition of its prizes for a period of 3 to 4 years. The winner of this contest was the team formed by David Torrents + Silvia Miguez (graphic design) and Emiliana Design (spatial design). We talk with them about the design of exhibitions and, in particular, the challenge of an exhibition such as “The best design of the year” which shows the winners and the runners-up of the FAD Awards of Architecture and Interior design, the ADG Laus of Graphic Design and Visual Communication, the ADI of Industrial Design, the ArtsFAD to artistic creation and the MODA-FAD.
How were Emiliana Design and David Torrents born respectively?
Emili Padrós – With Ana we met when we were studying in London, at Central Saint Martins. When we finished we went back to Barcelona and in 1996 we began doing things together. In 1998 we rented a space and it was the origin of the study. Half a day we were dedicated to Emiliana and the other half to our individual practices. The real trigger was an exhibition at The Virreina, “Future Compound” in 1999 that coincided with a Design Spring, the main design event in Barcelona at that time. It was curated by Quim Larrea and Martín Azúa, Anna Bujons, Meritxell Duran, Martí Guixé, and us, were showing work.
Ana Mir – For this exhibition, we were invited to make visionary proposals about the new millennium and we were lucky enough to have a small budget and make quite exploratory pieces that then toured around the world, they were shown at the MoMA in New York, in Paris, Austria, Australia, Canada…
David Torrents – I think “David Torrents” was my parents’ idea (laughs). No, seriously, I do not know why I never decided to use an artistic name, I have always used my name. I did Fine Arts, then Graphic Design at Elisava and an exchange in Holland, and there I stayed studying and working for three years. After traveling through different cities, the return marked a before and after. David Torrents -the studio- was born after Amsterdam and for more than 10 years I have worked with Silvia Míguez. Together we have designed everything that has been done graphically during these four years in this exhibition.
Which was the first exhibition in which you worked together?
A – The Forum of Cultures in 2004. They asked us to design the space allocated to the fair of the participating entities, which were many, changed every week and had different needs. Therefore, it was a space that called for mobility and transformation. Initially we thought of designing furniture with wheels but finally, we came up with the idea of allocating the stands directly on a fleet of vans that were organized in different ways each time.
E – It was not one of the great exhibitions of the Forum but it was precisely its essence, a great place where the participating associations exposed their social projects. We asked David to design the graphics of this space and the application he made for the sails that shaded the vans was graphically very spectacular. The idea was also that the vans would tour around the city… but that wasn’t possible after all.
D – In 2014, we designed with Silvia and Emiliana the “Pop Cèntric” exhibition at the Arts Santa Mònica and by 2015 we decided to submit a joint proposal for FAD’s contest and this is the fourth year we’ve done it together!
How do you value the experience of designing this exhibition? What has been the challenge every year and how have you faced it?
A – The brief is very complex. It is an exhibition where everyone has the same right to be exposed in the same way. Our main objective is to create a homogeneity in the way projects are shown. We do not want any piece to stand out over another. This year we think it stands out a lot and it also looked great the first year. The two years in between have been tightened by the limitation of space… but this year the exhibition has much more presence and this has a very positive reading: in this city, in the field of design, things are happening!
D – For me, the first year was the best thesis because, along with the awards, there were pieces of difficult classification. It was very good that all the audience of the prizes saw that things that are more exploratory, that mix disciplines, are happening alongside more traditional design. It should also be noted that in “The best design of the year” there are some curators who select the pieces, which are the jurors of each prize, but these juries do not participate in the design of the exhibition and therefore, on the level of spatial discourse, our paper is key. On the last couple of years, unfortunately, due to the lack of space and the amount of pieces to be shown, there was a lot of density and it was very difficult to achieve this homogeneity and that all the pieces had the same space. As for the labels, I think that if there was more time, the reason why each object and each piece is shown could be better explained, especially regarding the Laus Awards for Graphic Design and Visual Communication.
E – The brief has its obvious budgetary constraints and we have managed to reuse almost every element every year and optimize the materials. The use of perforated DM, and the pine bar for all the structures or the paper bands help to achieve a very consistent and neutral space. They are very honest and humble materials that we have used every year to give continuity to the space and also relate the different disciplines that FAD represents, which is their main goal. When you walk around the exhibition, you go from the industrial design to the graphic design section almost without realizing it, and on the other side there is fashion and behind architecture, and then, art. Our aim was to create affinities and connections along the exhibition pathway.
What is the strength of this exhibition?
D – I think we all agree that what makes this exhibition special is the mixture of disciplines. For many years FAD has tried to show its different prizes: FAD Awards of Architecture, Laus Awards of Graphic Design, Delta Awards of Product Design, ArtFAD Awards of Arts and Craft and MODAFAD Awards of Fashion. But after many years, FAD has realized that the point of it all is that the prizes are shown together. The strength of this exhibition is to see all the disciplines together and our job is to show the links between them at the exhibition level. Now it works but it has been a long process. It is a very big and very unique ambition. It is not easy to find this in other contexts. The different guilds of design do not usually work together, there are few entities that encompass different guilds and I think it’s very interesting. There are very few associations such as FAD in the world. This is the strength of the FAD and the exhibition as well, and we have tried to translate this and take it further.
E – Yes, showing the prizes jointly makes a lot of sense. Instead of putting walls between a prize and another, what we want is to draw relations between them.
A – All the disciplines of design overlap in some way and seeing them together is very enriching. These are jobs that have many things in common. We are used to working with different scales and although we often say that we do not do interior design, the exhibition design leads us to adapt an interior for needs that are not those of living but of showing a content.
For David: Designing the graphics of an exhibition is similar to the task of designing a poster?
D – In essence yes: you are narrating a discourse and you have to understand what you see first and what you see second, and after that, you have all the details. But in both cases, you need to take into account two key variables: distance (space) and time. The public dedicates very different times to reading a poster and seeing an exhibition and they also experience them from different distances. As a result, both cases require you to create different reading levels that translate into certain measurements, positions and distances. I find many similarities. That’s why, when I had to go find my first client, I went to a museum. Museums encompass most of my projects.
For Emiliana: is designing an exhibition any similar to designing a chair?
A – I think that in our case it is quite different. The great difference is temporality. An exhibition has a very specific temporary element. It involves a lot of work – we’ve been working on some exhibitions for over two years – but then it is consumed fairly quickly in between 1 and 3 hours. With a product or piece of furniture, sometimes it seems that there is not so much work, but there is as well. However, the user will usually be able to have this product for many years and that is also beautiful because you become somehow part of their life. The great difference is the time to enjoy something.
E – With exhibitions, you suffer a lot, towards the end times are usually very tight and you have to take into account many things: the audio-visuals, the sound, the light, the electric, the carpenter, the painter. It is complex to coordinate all these, but on the other hand, it is also very enjoyable. For example, there is no product from which we have sold thousands of thousands. Nevertheless, we have done exhibitions with more than 50,000 visitors! Knowing that these people have in some way or another enjoyed your work and that you have created an environment so that they can enjoy it or assimilate a knowledge is very rewarding. In our case, we need to get into the contents generated by the curator, and then create a narrative, an atmosphere, a light, a soundscape, a certain way to move around the space… hide something to reveal it when you turn around a corner… Sometimes you have discussions because one piece can hurt the sensitivity of some viewers and you have to think about how to show it. There are many moments that you have to anticipate what the visitor will do and it’s very cool.
D – I like that you to see a difference in your case because I also see it, but at the same time I greatly appreciate your ability to do both things so well. Not everyone is able to go from the product design to space design so easily. But the advantage of working with you is that apart from working with space, you understand very well the needs of the products that need to be exhibited, and you are able to build display structures such as the Laus Awards table up to the last screw and take care of every detail.
What has this edition of the Barcelona Design Week made you re-evaluate?
A – Revalue (the message launched by this Design Week) is something that we have very internalized as designers. Therefore, it seems to us a very current and necessary proposal. What we really appreciate about this edition is the union of efforts between the FAD, the BCD and the Museum of Design to jointly organize this Design Week and position it at an international level. The museum contributes its historical analysis of the design, the BCD connects businesses and design and FAD represents the profession and highlights how the culture of design in Barcelona is very and very much alive, like “The best design of the year” exhibition shows.
The exhibition “The best design of the year” can be visited until the 21st of October in Room A of the Disseny Hub Barcelona, from Tuesday to Sunday from 10h a 20h.
Interview: Sol Polo
Images: Xavi Padrós