Patrick Burgoyne blogs from Monterrey Design Week in Mexico. Above: DWM director general Michael Garcia gets proceedings under way
Hailing very much from the mad professor school of cookery, by way of El Bulli with a touch of Heston Blumenthal, Homaro Cantú (above) is that rare combination – designer and chef. Diners at his Chicago restaurant Moto are presented with an edible menu, while liquid nitrogen, centrifuges and a specially adapted laserprinter are all utilised in the kitchen. In his Monterrey talk Cantú used a tape of his appearance on US cooking show Iron Chef to demonstrate his methods while taking the audience through his designs for an ultra efficient mini ceramic oven and an idea for canned carbonated fresh fruit that he hopes to make available via vending machines. Unfortunately Cantú didn’t touch on another side of his work, his design practice that is engaged on projects such as providing nutritious, lightweight, longlife food for use in disaster relief. The latter may have been more inspiring for the audience of design students, interesting thought the cookery was.
Next up, Elisabeth Lecourt captivated the audience with her evocative drawings. Lecourt is best-known for her “map dresses” – paper dresses made from folded maps. But, as she revealed, having a single project become so successful brings its problems. Ideally, she would like to move on, but commissions for map dresses keep rolling in and, well you have to make a living. Designers often idealise the life of the artist but Lecourt revealed the pressures that artists come under from their dealers to take particular, commercially-attractive directions in their work even when their interests may lay elsewhere.
After lunch, it was the turn of yours truly to take the stage – curiously, DWM is in the round, the stage being in the centre of the room, rather like a boxing ring. So this is what I saw:
I asked them to pretend that they were enjoying themselves…
If you want an example of how the internet is allowing studios outside the traditional centres to compete on the world stage, the first presentation on day 3 provided it. GrupoW are from a city about 60km from Monterrey called Saltillo, home to car plants and engineers but not designers. Nevertheless, GrupoW now find themselves working for the likes of Nike and Rexona. How? Winning awards early in the studio’s life certainly helped as did putting the standard of their work above making a profit in the early days. In a cautionary tale, however, founder Miguel Calderon described how some of this success had begun to go to their heads – they were becoming “divos” he said. So, for the past year, he has been trying to get the company back to being a place that is enjoyable to work at, even if that means turning away work. The company remains resolutely independent and defiantly rooted in its location.
Design Week Monterrey, incidentally, has an interesting set up. The whole thing is run and owned by CEDIM, a private design school of about 1000 students based in Monterrey. As well as raising awareness about design and inspiring students, CEDIM uses the conference to help finance its activities for the rest for the year, as it gets no government support and otherwise relies on tuition fees. Everyone working on the conference also works at the college – an amazing team effort.