by Giada Giachino
I cannot keep it professional on Ana Cristina Quinones. Friend, schoolmate, great designer, Ana has helped me and inspired with her work during my MA at Central Saint Martins.
Furniture designer, Ana made sustainability the centre of her practice. And this is a difficult job: if you are a sustainable designer, and you don’t have to go through all the nonsense around the understanding of the afterlife of objects (see Papanek’s The Green Imperative), or the limitation of recycling (Cradle to Cradle, dear!), you probably work in H&M’s Sustainability Department.
Jokes apart, putting the research and the application of sustainable materials at the very beginning of her research, Ana demonstrates that design is a holistic methodology that helps analyse the contemporary issues and transform them in future possibilities.
Most convincing is Ana’s narrative, based on her cultural background. She is from Puerto Rico, and she utilises coffee and plantain by-products in making her Materia Madura (Mature Matter) collection. The material and aesthetics talk about her country, the ancestral shape of Taino’s furniture and objects, and therefore, trace a straight line between the awareness of past and present issues and their projection on the future. What are we going to do with today’s objects?
Apart from developing her practice Ana teaches at the Escuela Internacional de Diseño y Arquitectura of Turabo University in Puerto Rico.
1) Materia Madura has a deep cultural background. What is the importance of your design research in defining your aesthetic language?
I am very much inspired by the former indigenous Taíno culture from Puerto Rico and their prehistoric artefacts. Integral to the design research of my practice is a strong sense of a culturally prehistoric revival that dictates each design decision, from the initial stages of the concept to the finishing details of the final product. The material aesthetic and texture, the visual form, function and purpose of each object respond to local primitive resources, processes, and a way of life that enables the maker to be intimately involved in each stage of the design method. Behind this idea is a personal belief that the answer to a better future is found in the past. My practice seeks to recognise familiarity, simplicity, history, and the idea that the possible future may not be all digital and technological, but rather a return to simple sophisticated functionalities of the past. As industrial designer Kenji Ekuan once stated, “When we think of the future of design, we might imagine a world where robots are everywhere, but that’s not it. The ultimate design is little different from the natural world.” Through its aesthetic language, process, and the user’s individual interaction with the designed object and material, Materia Madura aspires to represent the process that elapses from raw to refined and how primitive and native craft can evidently result in sophisticated and sustainable objects.
2) ‘Sustainable’ is an ambiguous word: in the last 5 years everything, from fashion to food, has been featured by this adjective. It looks like it is a marketing tool more than a genuine awareness. Where do you place your practice in relation to this?
I agree. It is a word that has often been misused or taken for granted, labelling ‘sustainable’ that which is not in its entirety sustainable. Therefore, prompting the question, what is ‘sustainable’? Perhaps clarification can begin by establishing the degree of a product’s sustainability through its process and lifecycle. In the case of my practice, Materia Madura, the sustainability of the product is defined by a cradle-to-cradle philosophy. The organic matter that composes the material–plantain and coffee–began its lifecycle in soil. Because of the organic composition and process in the preparation of the waste material, the designed product can eventually end up as raw organic material at the end of its lifecycle as well. As a result, the product serves its purpose throughout its lifetime and instead of ending up in a recycling bin or landfill, it ends up in the place where it was first grown. Nurturing the soil instead of harming the environment. Part of the sustainable aspect of the process also has to do with respecting the material for what it is, by analysing its inherent properties and characteristics. Instead of dictating the material to behave in a way that it is not meant to, by studying the properties and characteristics of it, you instead allow the material to dictate the design.
3) Does your teaching activity relate to your practice?
I find that if you allow your passions and strengths to become the driving force behind your teaching, the more accomplishments you will be able to achieve in the learning process. It is evident that I have a curiosity and interest for experimentation and materiality and even though the courses that I teach are design-based on a broader sense, I usually place a very strong emphasis on these two areas. Cultivating experimentation through materiality in order to design effective objects.
4) Where do you see your practice in 5 years?
I see my practice as a continuous research process through material experimentation. My desire is to continue exploiting the potential of the material and pushing the boundaries on its design applications, venturing into an array of a variety of designed objects that can serve different purposes. Since I work with a material that is organic, factors such as the environment, context, and climate can affect each design in an unforeseen way. Because of this, I continually find new ways of making and evolving the process and the material itself. There are certain parameters that I maintain which characterise my work, but the nature of the material allows each design to be unique and different in some way. Since agricultural waste is massively available worldwide, therefore the possibility exists to not only implement this proposal in countries where plantain and coffee are grown, but also to implement a strategic design process where the different agricultural wastes of various countries can be used and processed as raw material for design, in the same way that plantain and coffee is.