The Other Market: A Critical Review

Having passed enough time to see the project in perspective, and on the spirit of the project itself, I find necessary to take a critical view on The Other Market. It also becomes particularly relevant, taking into account that the project will become active again in the upcoming TodaysArt Festival in the Hague, as well as on the graduation show of the DAE, during the DDW ’13 (Dutch Design Week).

For those who do not have a clue about the project, I will put you in context. The Other Market was the name I gave to my graduation project for the Social Design master program (2013), at the Design Academy Eindhoven. The Other Market is a platform, materialized in a meshwork of pushcarts, for trading products and services without money, using dialogue as a currency. The carts were made embracing the aesthetics of informality, aiming to create a contrast with an over-planned and over-designed society; this was also the initial trigger for dialogue on the streets. No blueprints, drawings nor measurements were done. There was little intention, if any, of achieving a look to it, but just a honest manifestation of the materials scavenged and the tools and processes available.

AVOIDED PITFALLS

During the course of the project, specially at the beginning, I was aware of potential pitfalls, considering the topics I was working with. One of them was related to the danger of romanticizing precariousness, attitude which has become very common amongst designers and architects (maybe related to a trend that Bruce Sterling calls Favela Chic). Blinded by the beauty of the resourcefulness and inventiveness existent in slums and similar communities, some designers play the role of the favela dweller, but without understanding the political consequences of this decisions, or assuming a critical attitude towards his or her position (see the debate which started after Urban Think Tank’s work on the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennial, inspired on their research on Caracas’s vertical slum Torre David). This takes projects out of context. Into a certain extent, I think I managed to avoid that pitfall, by not centering the arguments around the way the cart was made, nor using words that refer to this other contexts (favela, slum, etc). In relation to the ‘informality’ of the actions and the cart itself, they had a reason to exist (deeper that achieving a look): creating a contrast with an over-planned society and triggering dialogue (becoming, then, a conversation piece).

The second pitfall that I was confronted to, when I started to plan the series of interventions, was the trivialization of the actions (sales). I was weary of the fact that a series of interventions would not make a project, and so it could be easily trivialized. What did I do to avoid this? Nothing. The series of actions connected themselves in a way that I did not foresee, and the project naturally became about the network of people connected through the project, rather than the project itself. Also, the methodic documenting of the actions, made possible for me to produce The Other Media afterwards, which gave more importance to the project as a platform or medium, rather than as an end in itself.

CRITICAL ASPECTS

Even though I managed to avoid the foreseen pitfalls, there were also the unforeseen ones, which serve as criteria for taking a critical look towards my own project. One of the biggest mistakes I made during the implementation of the project (the series of interventions) was taking to much time and effort in justifying myself, having little hope that people would understand what I was doing and, more important, why I was doing it. Truth being, everybody was getting it right away. Even the most traditional, object and production oriented designers (like my mentor Dick van Hoff) understood my motives and actions, and never questioned my position as a designer. Than, on the streets level, where it could be assumed that people would be maybe less receptive, it was actually quite the opposite. When going to the streets and confronting what I did to ordinary people (non-designers), everybody got it right away, and connected in unforeseeable ways (like Annie, a professional hair-dresser who joined an intervention cutting hair herself). I guess the weight of being on a (traditional) design school, put pressure on me to give explanations that where not necessary.

A few days ago I was speaking with a first year student of the master program about the project, and I had to give him the explanations that where not necessary for people who experienced the project from a closest position. Even though it took a bit longer for him to understand and accept the project within his conception of design practice, he understood quite well, yet asked me an interesting question: “didn’t you miss designing ‘something’?” For that question I have two answers. The first is no, because I have little interest in traditional object-making-design-practice; it is simply not my thing. The other answer would be yes, because I do like to build stuff (different to design things), and maybe would have liked if in the past interventions I would have involved some type of collective building/making.

The other two aspects towards which I take a critical attitude are closely related. The first one was a problem of finding an appropriate way of communicating the project when I am not present (or in any ‘exhibition’ format in general), as it should have been on finals exhibition (June 18). This was somehow understandable, when confronted to the amount of content that I had gathered throughout the project, yet it led me through a dead-end track. And getting lost in a sea of information did not allow me to communicate the core of the project: the meshwork of markets and the network of people. This was the only thing that had to be clear: the initial formation of a critical mass; but instead I flooded in distracting data.

TO COME?

My intention to write this critical review on my own project is twofold: on one side, is a kind of catharsis, and I might stop thinking of what I did not do. On the other, the reflection leads to action for the following steps. On its coming participations, The Other Market will try to avoid falling into the same mistakes, but try to maintain its strengths. Beyond my personal motivations, this should be a habit of every designer (and actually any professional): look back critically into what one has done.