For Capsule's Milan Design Week premiere, SIZED Founder & Creative Director, Alexander May, sat down with Mexican designer, Victor Barragán, to discuss Barragán's new series of sculptural design objects. Barragán is known for his experimental underground fashion design label, BARRAGAN, which he founded in 2014. However, his recent series of simultaneously inviting and dangerous workout-inspired design objects question where sculpture ends and design begins.
Interview has been transcribed from Capsule's latest print edition. / Photos by Nori Rasmussen Martinez.
ALEXANDER MAY: I guess I want to start this conversation on the topic of wellness and the body. I feel like it’s quite interesting because, especially living in Los Angeles, it’s a hot topic and always has been top of mind, which is actually cool. When I think about wellness in relation to your art and design practice, I feel like it has this connection to the experience of use, or the belief system informing peoples’ wellness practices in general. In relation to the bench press and the hand weights, where use is implied you add in another component that reflects an energy or a position that’s associated with the experience of the use of an object, which is, of course, connected to wellness.
VICTOR BARRAGÁN: I think my approach has always been related to the body somehow. I didn’t notice until I got older how important it is to take care of my body, my inner peace, and all that until about 30. That was the main idea that drove the process while I was working on the bench press piece. And the idea of spikes was something that I kept thinking about. At first they’re going to be a little painful, but then they’re going to feel better. Obviously the aesthetic of spikes is a little aggressive, but they also remind me of pressure points, some sort of sacrifice, or rebirth. I come from Mexico, so I was definitely trying to link a lot of ideas together. And then maybe I guess some people think about BDSM when they see the pieces, but that wasn’t on my mind when I was working—I wasn’t trying to play with that.
ALEXANDER: I’d like to also talk about your day bed. In a way, it’s this kind of classic design piece, but it also has a connotation of a therapist’s office, or almost that it’s built for a specific person. It’s quite versatile in that way. But then, it’s kind of held up by these beautiful spiked legs. The spikes have been part of your practice for a while, right?
VICTOR: I actually started off by doing some designs with bullets, which have a similar shape, but hold a different meaning. Something pointy is pretty to look at and you naturally want to touch it—the piece invites you in but at the same time, it’s kind of dangerous. The spike thing in particular has been a staple of mine for the past two years, but I do want to evolve from that at some point. So I’m trying to have that on the side and keep experimenting with something new, because I know I’m going to get bored. But I always try to bring it back to how we relate to objects on the body.
ALEXANDER: When you’re talking about your relationship to the body, to your own body, to the queer body, and all these different ways to think about it. I’m reminded of conversations I was having when I put together my first SIZED show. For me, there was a direct correlation in terms of shape and structure: the wrapping, the melding, the support, all these things are in reference to the body. I’d be curious to know where, for you, does the sculpture end and the design begin?
VICTOR: I guess because I come from a sort of architecture and design background, I started school and then I quit, I have always been attracted to objects that serve a function–but, at the same time, I’m not. So that’s how everything started. I was like, “Oh, I want to do furniture, but if I label it as furniture, sometimes the meaning or the value goes down because the idea is to keep reproducing.” So, there’s always this blurry line too. Making an object that someone can use however they want has kind of been the dialogue that I’ve been employing with these pieces. And then, for example, over the last two years, I’ve been showing here and there. I’ve shown some pieces at a museum in Mexico and now I’m going to start working with a gallery—but they don’t want me to do furniture for them. It’s more like I have to give them an art piece and then I can label it whatever I want.
ALEXANDER: That’s something I think about all the time—I mean the conversation between art and design, and I have 18 years in the art world. But the exact things you’re talking about, whether it’s sculpture or design, what you’re striving for is creating a relation to the body. And if you want to sit on it, if you want to look at it, if you want to put it on a plinth, it’s like how do you work with these things? It can be a challenge because it changes the dynamics around how we’re experiencing stuff. And that’s also when it comes back to wellness or BDSM. It’s like, okay, part of your wellness journey could be getting slapped by a leather paddle every day, and that’s your release point, or it could be laying on a spiked mattress or it could be doing yoga three times a day. But it’s funny, between the daybed and then the bench press, the bench press immediately veers into more of an art sculpture space because the definition of use is not so forthcoming. But then the daybed, of course it’s usable, right? It’s about the body. So then all of a sudden that becomes design.
VICTOR: I think for some reason, we always want to label stuff. But I think it’s more about how things relate to the body and how we’re used to labeling everything...if you can put it on your body, then it’s a garment; if you can sit down on it, then it’s a chair. It’s definitely not something I was thinking about when designing the pieces, but more of how I see people relate to what I make.
ALEXANDER: Maybe that’s the thing, it actually kind of comes down to the environment that you create for it, right?
ALEXANDER: So, if it’s clothing, but it’s in a pile, there’s a different kind of relationship to how you’re experiencing that. One idea that comes up is modularity. Would you say there is a type of modularity to your practice?
VICTOR: I would say yeah, because the process and the work gets adaptable and I think I’m still trying to find freedom in the output. And I love connecting the dots, so that everything makes sense. I think when people see the clothing, the sculptures or the design or together, everything makes more sense; they see that I’m creating a whole world. Even now I’m giving you more context so you can better understand what’s going on in my mind. Each outlet compliments the next one and the I hear people say, “Oh, now I understand why you referenced this piece from your last show.” I like when everything connects.
ALEXANDER: That’s the role of the artist or the maker: creating a certain point of access or figuring out how to tell the story—connecting the dots. Is there an idea or a time or a place where you feel like this is all going to kind of fuse together for you? Is there a place where people sit and people touch and hang out and look at something? Is that something you’re interested in or do you like to have it sort of separated?
VICTOR: With the clothing part?
ALEXANDER: Yeah, clothing or with the design and stuff.
VICTOR: During the early years of the brand, art performance with clothing was a big thing. And I think through the years, obviously, the brand started coming into its own...and now it’s fully formed. So that’s where I decided to separate because the brand is its own, I guess, entity. Then I was like, “Okay, I just need something different—something where I’m only talking about myself and not a brand.”
ALEXANDER: Yeah, for sure.
VICTOR: I think it needed to be separated; the audience of the brand is definitely different from the audience of the furniture pieces. And I think the way people consume garments is very different from the way they consume design. But I love the idea that at the beginning it was all together. It was pretty restricting at first, but now we have more marketing, I guess, so I’m growing in tandem with that process, while still being mindful that I don’t want the marketing to bleed into the art. Because that’d definitely cripple all your ideas, and that’s not what I want.
ALEXANDER: You’ve got to keep that energy flow, you gotta keep that channel open.
VICTOR: Yeah. I guess that’s the main reason why the brand was not fulfilling my own, I guess, creativity. Because I know exactly what I have to do to keep things working. And I was like, “Okay, maybe this is not a place to put my whole energy.” And that’s when I started doing something new. For me, it was the main thing, I needed to step away from that world, and I needed to remove this giant weight from my shoulders. I needed something new and fresh.