Happiness is a hot (and cool) sponge
Guest Curator: Guillermo Santamarina
16 april - 29 september 2012



I. Subject and predicate

“The Jerry Can, the lemon squeezer, the steam pot, the Corona Chair, the clothing tweezers, the stylized chair for Mathias Goertiz’s El Eco chair, the brutalism of the tiny folding stool, and the super popular All-Star Converse clashing against the extremely expensive and unusable glass slippers of Maison Martin Margiela: simple, functional and everyday objects in dialogue with aesthetic, admirable and unattainable objects. More than fifty carefully selected design works lie rhythmically on top of cylindrical concrete pedestals inside an exhibition gallery. From the door’s threshold, one notices a polymorphic collection of objects that looks more like a tiny Aleph in Tacubaya than like the common industrial design exhibition in Mexico.


On April 16, 2012, Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura (ADA) first opened its doors to the public under the direction of Regina Pozo featuring the exhibition Happiness is a hot (and cool) sponge curated by Guillermo Santamarina. In an exhibition gallery full of visitors walking carefully amongst exhibition toothpicks, a lady around fifty years old, fifty kilos and 15 cm heels observes intently a wooden handled broom with treated root bristles exhibited on top of pedestal number forty. She observes the label and technical sheet with uneasiness: a glance at the broom, a glance at the sheet, a glance at the broom, a glance at the sheet. She seemed confused, like if she was missing out on something, like if there was something to be understood that she was failing to grasp. At the same time, the friends that came with her, probably from a MACO[1] tour, walked around the gallery room contemplating the qualities of a sugar lump, the hairpin, the round mixer and the poultry fence. Instead of pondering on the design process, or on the genealogy of the objects, or the teleological characteristics of the piece, I believe –almost with complete certainty– that they were remembering the many times they had used a mixer, straightened out their hair with pins, and dropped sugar lumps on their black Emir coffee. The same story repeats itself for almost all the visitors –except for those professionals and design intellectuals whose eyes glimmer in amazement of the works’ ontology– we all go back instantly to how common most of these forms are in our everyday life.


Everyday we are in contact with objects designed with such genius that we forget they even exist, and it is only when they are exhibited in a museum or written about in a book that we realize the transcendence good design has in our lives. Everything that has been touched or transformed by men is, naturally, designed. Proper objects relate with honesty the time and place where they were created, they also express the reasons why they were made and the process through which they were built. Proper objects are those that work, those that we know, those that we can tell stories about.


Guillermo Fadanelli, in an act of tremendous genius, wrote fifty five min fictions on the works in the sponge: the Jerry Can reminds him of his father and the relieve of putting gas in the car, the hairpins look like hungry ants or larva eating away the head, the glass slippers are a symbol for him, the last relic of erotic imagination. Good objects have the ability to speak about themselves, and through their use they become part of the user’s narrative, for good or bad. For example, the bicolor pencil seems to me and to my memories one of the least functional designs in the collection, not only did I constantly struggle with broken tips but I also never understood why the red end finished before the blue end, when there was always more to underline in the predicate than in the subject.






II. Sattva, rajas y tamas

In contemporary art, when a shoebox enters the museum it is not because of its material qualities or the design of its perfect assembly parts: the box is worthwhile because it carries within it the mechanism for the action of entering the museum. Contemporary art is worthwhile, amongst many other reasons, because of the relationships between meaning and consecration in a complex market system. On the other hand, when a shoebox enters the museum as a design work it is worthwhile because of  the qualities of its assembly, use of material and aesthetic function. The shoebox is treasured for its perfect balance of form and function.


Guillermo Santamarina, an independent curator with more that 500 exhibitions since 1981, is an expert in the first kind of museum relationships. He plunged himself in the adventure of putting together an exhibition with the best strategy possible: inventing a method of his own. It consisted of awareness of two basic premises: the first was to remain honest with his experience and with the configuration mechanism he had employed previously in art exhibitions and the second was to explore a new process structure based in dualities [2] . These dualities are present in every aspect of the exhibition as an epistemological method of appraisal: a hot and cool sponge, a red and blue publication, purely functional objects against merely aesthetic objects: teleology and poetics.


These two paths of value contrast, complement, dialogue and confront each other within the tantric gunas in which they are organized: “Primordial Nature, or Prakrirti, is not a homogeneous substance but rather a seed for multiplicity. Prakrirti holds within itself all forms of creation which manifest themselves through three main qualities: sattva, rajas and tamas.” [3] Gunas are the energies through which the deep conscious functions manifest themselves. Sattva is intelligence and equilibrium. Tamas is substance and creates inertia. A thorough examination of the qualities in each object sorts out the works into the three gunas. These spheres working in equilibrium establish the synchronicity, determine the distance between each piece and dictate the movement flow within their own bodies.






III.  The Forest

The mere fact of walking in an exhibition gallery that looks like a forest of concrete toothpicks is in itself an action that invites one to play along. Some tall, some short, some robust and some thin, frail and strong toothpicks, all made of concrete. The sponge’s objects rest on top of this forest. Each object has its own support that places it in a determined space within the mechanics of the gunas.


The program for the exhibition space was a bet for the project’s sincerity, a coherent decision given that a new experimental location for design needed an experimental museographic proposal. So it was that the informal architecture firm Arcotecho, formed by Alessandro Arienzo and Rodrigo Escandón set about looking for a method that could echo de stories, forms and formulas in the exhibit.


The rectangular room in number 4, General Francisco Ramirez, which was designed in 1952 by architect and artist Arturo Chávez Paz has a marvelous picture window that frames one of the traditional Tacubaya gardens. The double height space dictates its rhythm through five narrow columns set about close to the threshold that opens into the garden. Half of the distance between these columns was the standard for determining the modular grid where coordinates where drawn out in order to place the cylinders. Nevertheless, the distribution is not that simple. The bases have an array of varieties, from four cylinders piled on top of each other to twelve concrete cylinders that form a circle on the floor. The highest points are at the center and grow shorter as they reach the margins, or better yet, since the height of the center cylinders makes it harder for the viewer to circulate, the space becomes denser as one walks deeper into the gallery.


The game then consists of moving like a Chinese checker. The diagonal distribution system does not allow for one to walk through the space in a straight line and the observations made by the visitors become almost an exercise of recognizing their own bodies. The large format erratic labels by Fadanelli were placed on the only blind wall in the room. The design of these was conceptualized by the design firm Ese, which was founded by Sofía Broid and Eduardo Sánchez and manifests itself as a series of numbers that hop from one to another, highlighting the importance that graphic image has in the program. The walls, labels, gallery map, and all of the printed material was designed by Ese and are all fundamental mechanisms for the broadcasting of design in all its outlets.


Moving itself away from the crystal box in which most museum objects are displayed, the works lie on the end of the pedestals on top of plywood without any kind of protection. The only thing accompanying the pieces is a small vinyl number that classifies the object within the exhibition corpus and allows for one to track its genealogy and erratic label. The quest of Alessandro and Rodrigo was also narrative. The cylinders, just like the objects, tell their own stories through their dints, cracks and chips. They speak of the moment when they where created through their honest material existence. They are marked, they carry on their skins words, numbers and lines, the testimony that they were useful and fulfilled their function.


The marks bare witness of the object’s usage by people, the same people who put gas in their cars with Jerry Cans and sweep their homes with a wooden handled broom. The museographic proposal achieved to transmit and dialogue not only with the preexisting architecture, but also with all the agents present in the encounter. Just like the concept that bears the exhibition, this is a didactic, dialectic and endemic space, but also human, like the nature of our bodies, which we acknowledge when walking amongst the frail toothpicks on which these humble masterpieces lie. [4] A strategy that much like a guna, seems simple yet ties down all of the space’s character.





IV. All of this scandal for producing

In the Archivo’s Impreso 01, the new project is presented as a as a space for revising, collecting, promoting, exhibiting and broadcasting Design in its many outlets (…) a precedent when working with different curatorial and exhibition frames, contests, colloquy, and activities that can beget critical exchange”. The scope of this objective might seem pretentious, nevertheless, one only has to go back to its last six months of production to realize that they are already meeting those expectations. The development of the encounters between design and architecture is already starting to bear results: an international design contest has already been launched and the Italian brand Alessi will soon develop its activities in the museum.


Archivo’s great success lies in the formulation of a space dedicated to transversal knowledge where usage flexibility welcomes new formats for museography, curatorship, design, contests and anything worth experimenting with. The team of the inaugural exhibition leaves behind a high bar for the next to take up the challenge. The space and the program would, without a doubt, have turned differently if the work had not been shared amongst its different actors. In an exercise of trust, conversation and understanding, Fernando, Regina, Guillermo, Alessandro, Rodrigo, Adriana and all of those involved wove a net of efforts that ran smoothly and accurately.


Like a house of cards where each card has the obligation of supporting another one, Archivo was built in record time, which makes one believe in a future of fresh projects within the rank world of culture in Mexico, where everything seems to be already done and owned.”


María García Holley




[1]  Archivo Arquitectura y Diseño was inaugurated in the frame of Mexico’s International Contemporary Art Fair (MACO)


[2]  In accordance to three types of thinking, as mentioned by Daniel Charles in his encounter with John Cage: western thinking, (“which endlessly proposes dualities, yet never solves them”) Indian thinking, (“according to which the two terms of reality are one and the same thing”), and the Chinese (“which is the thinking of wisdom and that shows, in each term of the duality, the complementary of the other”). P. 11 of Archivo’s Impreso 01, curatorial text by Guillermo Santamarina, 2012.


[3]  According to Yoga and Ayurveda, Nature consists of three primary qualities, which are the main power of the cosmic intelligence that determines our spiritual growth. Qualities known in Sanskrit as gunas, which means “thread”, since it in fact ties us down to the external world. P. 13 ibid.


[4] Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator in the Architectura & Design Department of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, published  in 2005  a book entitled  Humble Masterpieces, Everyday Marvels of Design, exercise taken as a reference when deciding to include such nature of everyday objects in the collection.