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.
For more than three years, the Argentinean sisters Sol Caramilloni Iriarte and Carolina Lopez Gordillo Iriarte kept a design studio on the second floor of a building in Barcelona, handcrafting an eponymous line of leather bags in relative privacy. Sol, 32, was working part-time as a set designer for films; Carolina, 25, had just finished a year apprenticing under her friend Muñoz Vrandecic, the Spanish couture shoemaker. Called Iriarte Iriarte, it was a modest operation. Then in June, fate intervened.
The scientific process behind many of life’s workaday phenomena is something called capillary action, which is the molecular attraction that makes liquid flow through a porous medium, for those in need of a high-school refresher. It’s what makes tears flow through your lachrymal ducts, what gives micro-fiber its super-absorbent properties, and why groundwater naturally spreads into areas of dry soil. It’s also what powers the Ink Calendar by Oscar Diaz.
There are more than 20,000 instances of great graphic design housed in the AIGA’s online archives, but for every Pushpin or Chiat\Day, there’s a Swatek Romanoff — a firm that churned out loads of wonderful work in its ’70s/’80s heyday but that isn’t the subject of much chatter among today’s design circles. When we were first putting together ideas for this site, it was Randall Swatek and David Romanoff’s whimsical 1979 “In a Box” series that inspired this column.