Spotlight: America(s)

American Design Stories: Agustina Bottoni

Anna Carnick

A conversation on connectivity, responsibility, and finding joy

In the American Design Stories series, we ask designers from across the Americas to share their insights on American design today, along with three images that represent their vision of American design.

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Milan-based designer Agustina Bottoni is known for emotionally evocative, elegant design objects, ranging from sound sculptures to tableware, interiors, and beyond. In addition to commissioned projects for international brands and galleries, the rising talent also collaborates with artisans to produce her own limited edition, experimental objects that combine the beauty of traditional crafts with a decidedly contemporary sensibility. Read on for Bottoni’s thoughts on connectivity, responsibility, and finding joy.

What makes your American story unique?

My American story, like many many others, is one that has been shaped by immigration. Not only are my close ancestors immigrants; I myself am one. I grew up in Argentina and have been based in Europe—mostly in Milan—for the last eight years. It’s been a unique experience to develop my profession in a city that honors such a rich design tradition, and for the same reason there were many obstacles to overcome as a foreigner. It took all my courage to develop my own design practice here. What I find interesting is that all this time, at a distance, my awareness of my identity as an American grew stronger—especially my ability to value our cultures.

What does “America” mean to you?

I’m from South America, and therefore my notion of America as a continent is inclusive of many cultures and very contradicting realities. I consider America my extended home; it’s part of my identity. Now that I’ve been living in Europe for a significant part of my life, I can see much more clearly what unites us as a region, and I am inspired by this glorious diversity and ingenuity.

"I took this picture near my grandmother’s house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Some neighbor made this contraption to dispose of trash bags, surely because of the lack of a proper solution from the council. Finding a beat-up Bertoia chair eaten by a tree in the barrio tells me a story of historic, economic ups-and-downs and uneven access to urban design. But what I love about this picture is that it also represents our resourcefulness and ingenuity." Photo © Agustina Bottoni

What are the most urgent topics that designers can and should address today?

We should really focus on reducing our environmental impact and our dependence on animal products, and then work towards a sustainable model that is respectful of the world and other species. For this to have real impact, we need profound structural changes in the way we source materials, produce, and sell products—a huge but necessary task that encompasses designers, industry, and consumers.

No less important is the need to improve the social side of our industry. We are witnessing some important actions towards inclusion and representation, but there is a lot more to work on. For example, the industry has to eliminate unfair, commonplace practices, such as the pervasive culture of unpaid jobs that fuel inequality and a lack of diversity in the scene.

"This photo was taken during a 2019 creative workshop I held in the mountains of Colombia, in a lush native forest that is currently endangered because of new urban developments and the chemicals used in agricultural farming. We gathered natural elements to create kinetic sculptures. As a part of my ongoing research on mobiles, it was powerful to experiment with diverse ephemeral compositions, a visual equivalent of the harmony and tensions found in nature, and a reminder for designers to protect its precious balance."  Photo © Roberto Niño Betancourt; Courtesy of Agustina Bottoni

What impact have the events of the past year had on your perception of your role as a designer?

I’ve always been interested in our responsibility as makers of material culture and the impact that this has in everyday life. Recent events have only strengthened my awareness. In every aspect of life—and also in the design industry—we are all tired of old structures that brew extreme consumerism, social injustice, and damage to our planet.

We’ve seen a renewed call for a more ethical design practice, including transparency in our production methods. Besides my freelance work for different companies, I produce small series of objects in collaboration with local artisans. It may have first started this way out of necessity a few years ago, but now it is my choice to do so, and I’m happy with my independence and the scale I have chosen. I feel a growing pride in the way I work every day to carry my business on my own terms, building a positive, fair design practice.

"This is the glorious brutalist National Library in Buenos Aires," Bottoni says, "designed by Clorindo Testa. Many locals favor the grand European style buildings and find it plain ugly. For me, it’s something else: a peaceful study place with one of the best river views of the city—and open for everyone. I always enjoyed my hours spent there overlooking the river." Photo © 	Evelyn Proimos via Flickr

Where do you look for joy or optimism?

My conversations with friends and family always help when it’s tough. Lately, because of isolation, I’ve found a great refuge in my own environment: pleasant aromas, nourishing foods, sunlight, and especially soothing music. At home, one of the sound sculptures from my Melodicware series, with its celestial chimes, has been a serene companion. I’ve found great joy in listening to my own needs, and, unexpectedly, this awareness has brought a great deal of optimism that improved my connection with the outside world.

Where do you look for strength?

I search for it in my loved ones and in my own story, in considering the challenges I have overcome and the ones that are worth working on.

What gives you the most joy in your work?

I find joy when people genuinely engage with my work. When there is an emotional connection, sometimes in an unexpected way, it’s incredibly fulfilling, because otherwise it would feel like I’m just making pretty things. My glassware line is composed of simple objects, but they are present in people’s celebrations and special moments, enhancing them in a way. Often my clients from all over the world share their experiences with these objects with me, and it feels delightful to be connected to a larger community.

Thank you, Agustina!

 

Agustina Bottoni is a Milan-based designer whose work ranges from product and furniture design to textile development and large- and small-scale installations Focusing on the emotional value of objects and spaces, Bottoni’s works honor material authenticity though harmonic compositions of delicate forms and subtle color palettes. Her works have been exhibited at internationally renowned design and art institutions and events, such as Triennale di Milano, London Design Fair, Salone del Mobile, and Maison et Objet. She is also co-founder of the design collective The Ladies’ Room.

 

Inspired by the 2020 Design Miami/ Podium theme America(s)—and all the complexities that go along with it, especially in this moment—Anna Carnick and Wava Carpenter of Anava Projects connected with a selection of outstanding designers with personal ties to the Americas to get their take on “American” design today. Their responses were insightful, inspiring, and diverse: From thoughts on the most pressing issues and challenges facing designers now, to hopes and suggestions for a more equitable future, and reflections on their own American design journeys to date. Each story is accompanied by images provided by the designer that embody what America(s) or American design means to them. 

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