Christian Vivanco is the new wunderkind of Mexican design. Within barely half a decade of finishing his postgraduate studies in Barcelona, the young designer had gathered a pretty impressive list of clients: Hewlett-Packard; Santa & Cole, Ofita; LuzDifusion; Almerich and Chocolat Factory, among others. For one so young, Christian had been a busy boy, whizzing around the world and showing off his quirky product and furniture designs everywhere from Tokyo and Frankfurt to Valencia and Washington D.C.
All that footwork seems to have paid off both at home and abroad. He was awarded various prestigious Mexican awards and selected for a number of exhibitions highlighting top Mexican design. It’s not as if things slowed down after his return to his native Mexico. Although teaching, he found time in 2011 to establish Christian Vivanco Design Studio .
At first glance, Vivanco’s work is a bit of a departure for Mexican design. One of their notable characteristics is their wit. It’s not that the all-seeing eye of Modernsim that still pervades educated Mexican society’s notions of taste is absent. Yep, it’s definitely there in both form and certain production aesthetics. It’s also not that other Mexican design is without humour, though one wily observer once noted that, “Modernism and humour were like oil and water.”
But where others have occasionally managed a wry smile, Christian Vivanco often seems to be chuckling loudly. Does one detect the influence of his time spent in Spain? There is even something about some of his games with furniture that brings to mind Javier Mariscal, for example.Or, is it simply that Christian Vivanco is from a generation of Mexican designers who simply feel far more comfortable at laughing at themselves?
For much of the twentieth century, Mexican design and architecture occupied tough terrain. On one hand the local talent’s ability to catch the ball of Modernism and run with it was undeniable; they even improved the game. But, back then bigger social questions facing Mexican society left little to laugh about and designers and architects all took their role as drivers for social change very seriously. At the same time, that famous Latin pride found it difficult to accept the sniggers of ignorant foreigners who only saw American media stereotypes and the garish nightmare of opulent “modern Mexican hacienda-style” villas and hotels springing up around the once secret Jet Set hideaways of Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. The foreigners conveniently forgot that most of this nouveau riche Liberacesque hubris combining fake Mexican historic vernaculars with Playboy’s idea of “classy” were largely designed by American architects making a killing on get-rich-quick developments targeting the well-off US market. Yep, back then it was difficult to laugh at being Mexican when so many other people were doing it for you.
Perhaps nothing sums up the newfound ability to be confidently and ironically Mexican than Vivanco’s Las Nenas range of chairs. Taking a classic Eames chair design and appropriating it via a personal consideration of Mexican culture (ironically also the foreign tourist clichés of what Mexico is all about), we were presented with chairs that allude to a miner’s mule, a piñata and the regional dress of traditional festival dancers from Oaxaca. It’s practically a Kodak moment from 1972. But, whether you ultimately fancy living with this furniture or not, the layers of conceptual thinking and good-natured teasing are undeniable, both directed at Mexican culture and an icon of international good taste, namely Eames.
And, even though there is a more toned-down quality to his more recent successful commercial designs, this sense of finding amusement in furniture and household design remains. The human heart as the inspiration for a pitcher (for Ánfora ceramicas) that, if used for red wine, is practically a visual gag. Or there’s the playful Traven series (for Nido muebles) designed with children in mind that actively encourages them to behave like basket cases.
Mexican design it seems no longer tries to avoid uncomfortable topics or sweep unreasonable foreign judgements about its culture under the carpet. Rather, Christian Vivanco is one of a new generation of designers that incorporates complex notions into their design with humour and a lot of thought. And, no doubt, Mexico only stands to benefit from it.