Excerpt: Exhibition
The Souvenir Effect

Is it times of trouble that attract us so keenly to the nostalgia of souvenirs — the snow globes, the ticket stubs, the ubiquitous museum totes? At the end of a chaotic decade, a rash of exhibitions has popped up dedicated to the kitschy takeaways of travel. The largest of these, “The Souvenir Effect,” curated by Òscar Guayabero for Barcelona’s Disseny Hub design museum, opened at the height of Spanish tourist season in July and comes to a close this Sunday.

For anyone who missed it, the exhibition gathered together more than 100 mementos and delved into the history of souvenirs, a phenomenon that has its roots in 17th- and 18th-century pilgrimages. Divided into five sections, the exhibition moved from museum and gift-shop kitsch (I ♥ NY mugs), to the souvenir as fetish object (the Manolos that drew scores of fashionable women to New York during the Carrie Bradshaw era), to meta-souvenirs that seem to comment on their own souvenir-ness (Hector Serrano’s emailable Reduced Carbon Footprint Souvenirs). What made the exhibition a particularly appealing stop on our design tour of Barcelona this summer was its inclusion of a world beyond Statue of Liberty bobbleheads and other dollar items gleaned from international streets: artifacts by the likes of Droog, Atypyk, and Lovegrove & Repucci.

For a final section, the museum commissioned five Spanish design teams and New York’s Constantin Boym — the doyen of design trophies — to create souvenirs for imaginary sites from literature, legend, and film. Here are the results.

waving catTower of Babel souvenirThe Little PrincestatueoflibertyOdysseyMetropolisLucha LibreLosmundosdegulliver3Gotham City Souvenir Beltchinesebuildings of disasterbrandenburg brushAtypyk_saucisson

Gotham City Souvenir Belt

Gotham City Souvenir Belt by Brosmind Studio, Barcelona. “A problem inherent to any journey is the annoying custom of taking home souvenirs for family and friends. Normally, this nuisance of a job is left to the last moment, with the result that the gifts are badly chosen or completely impersonal. The Souvenir Belt is a smart, patented solution that allows travelers to relax and enjoy their stay in the charming city of Gotham to the fullest. You won’t waste even one second of your valuable holiday time, because the Souvenir Belt is equipped with the perfect souvenirs for all those you love.”


Metropolis by Marc Morro, Barcelona. Of Fritz Lang's fictional city, Morro says: "If there were any tourists, they would certainly be subject to close surveillance. That’s why the Metropolis souvenir is something that seems harmless to the tourist but which conceals a control system. Whilst the visitor believes he or she is carrying around a miniature reproduction of the most outstanding building in the city (the Tower of Babel), inside the object is a tracking device that shows the location of all visitors to the city at all times, even after they have left."

The Little Prince

The Little Prince by Mar Llinés, Paris. Llinés created a collection of seven spinning tops representing the different asteroids and planets that The Little Prince discovers on his journey around the universe. Asteroid A326, for example, where the Prince meets The Conceited Man, is "represented by a spinning top so shiny we can see our face in it. Asteroid A327, the Drunkard, is a top made off-kilter, impossible to spin without it falling over."


Experiences in Scale by Guillem Ferran, Barcelona. For Gulliver's Travels, Ferran created a souvenir that explores changes in scale. "The project is divided into three parts: a physical part, which takes the shape of an aluminum ruler specially prepared to act as a nexus between two differently scaled worlds; a part concerned with promoting the sites or worlds that occupy different places; and an open, virtual, online project aimed at gathering experiences of changes in scale."


Odyssey by Causas Externas Studio, Barcelona. Of Odysseus's journey, the studio says: "It's impossible to choose an object to represent an adventure in which what's important is the experience itself, and not the places visited. For this reason, music — an intangible art — performs the task of evoking the memory of past experiences. The souvenir is a plinth, but there is no memento on it, only a loudspeaker playing Carlos Gardel’s song 'Volver.'" (Click here to read the lyrics.)

Tower of Babel souvenir

Tower of Babel by Constantin Boym, New York. Boym points out that it's not the architecture of the Tower but its erection and inevitable loss that captures the imagination. "To that end, the object is made like a pop-up toy: With a simple push of one’s fingers the Tower falls and rises again. It allows us to re-enact the biblical narrative in our own private way, for contemplation, fun, or any other individual purpose."