BRAZIL / RODRIGO ALMEIDA & MARCELO ROSENBAUM :: SAMESAME BUT DIFFERENT

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Brazil : identity is mainly defined by an extraordinary mix of cultures. For as Brazil is imposing itself at rapid speed as a 21st-century superpower, an evolution made possible by recent

political and financial stability, economic growth, unprecedented social mobility and the subsequent rise of a lower-middle class – the nation is radically transforming on every imaginable level, turning the question of its roots and identity, and their safeguarding, into a major issue. Rodrigo Almeida and Marcelo Rosenbaum are probably the two local designers who, over the last few years, have succeeded in tackling this matter in the most successful manner, be it that their respective tactics are totally different, and –although equally unorthodox – are in many ways even radically opposed. Part one: Rodrigo Almeida. Max Borka reports.

RODRIGO ALMEIDA:

ALL IN THE MIX

The Brazilian identity as we love to see it is a very exuberant and explosive one, created out of a hodgepodge of ethnicities, a most eclectic and extremely lively and confrontational mix, colorful and happy, despite of the ever-present misery in Brazilian society, or just because of it, haunted by the desire to leave it behind. “Brazil is a real

melting pot, and it can be complicated to put all this information together and discover a style, a way of thinking,” says designer Rodrigo Almeida. His talent is as raw and his way of working as unorthodox as the culture he is celebrating. Not hindered by the academics of a design education, and the technique of making CAD drawing and/or manipulating shapes until they’re suitable for industrial production —- he’s a self-made. He did not go to university, not even as an undergrad. The legend even goes that his career as a designer simply began when he picked up a magazine as a young man and thought, “I want to do that”.

MISCEGENATION

Far from aiming at mass or serial production, and not in the slightest bothering to be practical or comfortable, all Almeida’s pieces are one-off’s, unique. Almost exclusively composed of variations on the most emblematic of all design objects, the chair, together with some tables and shelves – his work perfectly succeeds in transferring and communicating this miscegenation or permanent cross-pollination that gave birth to what is worldwide considered to be the quintessence of Brazilian spirit, its carnivalesque and exuberant way of dealing with a multitude of contradictions and conflicts, layering and accumulating, and insatiable.

FREEFORM

“Miscegenation is one of the most important aspects of my work, “ Almeida says, “Everything is hybrid and not obvious”. And: “Blending materials and cultures comes naturally to me, because I’m a mix of indigenous, but also Portuguese, or African”. His totem-like objects consist of a diverse range of materials and upcycled elements that are directly appropriated from every day life, hardware stores, Carnaval supply stores and São Paulo streets

: carefully placed layers of paper, fabrics, nylon rope, wicker baskets, belts linoleum, feathers, sequins, and even local foods. He handcrafts and combines them with the simplest of techniques -stacking, layering, accumulating, and assembling- into freeform chairs and tables that are hyper-saturated with color and texture, often incorporating African-influenced patterns, and thus evoking the influence of the African culture in Brazil, or playing on the tension between flexible and inflexible materials, a met
aphor for his view of the eclectic culture of his country.

MAGPIE

By not wanting to be all too ‘obvious’, Almeida also means that he prefers a subtle reference and loose association to an all too evident demonstration. In his Africa chair, for instance, he draped strands of rope onto a wooden frame: “It does not look like a

traditional African chair, but the rhythm and the design of the object remind us of the African culture influence in Brazil.” The bright, varied colors of the nylon ropes in the same chair, that up till now has become his most famous, evoke the cheap plastic cast-offs that Africans in many countries hack to whatever use is at hand. Composed of disparate materials and textures which magically seem to work together, his magpie designs and patchworks thus breath a feel that is totally apiece with what is probably the main architectural expression of Brazilian culture, favelas, and the DIY way of living he had grown up with when he was a kid, on a farm in the countryside of northern Brazil: “We didn’t have a mall, and so craft was very normal. Because we needed these kinds of products, and making them by hand was cheaper, and sometimes they worked better.”

PURE

Almeida doesn’t characterize himself as a craftsman, though, more as an artisan — something in between design, art, and craft. Thriving on the groundbreaking work of his predecessors, the Campana Brothers, but less willing to compromise, by adopting to the standards of the ruling design industry, he has become the brightest among the new rising stars of a local design scene that, in the wake of the country’s growth, is rapidly globalizing. One may criticize him because of the fact that his works only results in (

expensive) one-offs. But it is exactly this choice that seems to offer him the freedom to express Brazilian identity in its purest form.

http://rodrigoalmeidadesign.com/

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Rodrigo Almeida will be highlighted at the Mapping the Design World Meeting Point at Reciprocity, the Design Biennial for Social Innovation in Liege, Belgium, from October 5 through October 28 2012, and will also feature in the accompanying MAP-Mapping the Design World magazine – focusing on some 100 examples of (Do) Good Design from an equal number of countries.

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