Welcome to Valparaíso

A soldier is welcomed back home (scene from Valparaiso workshop)

A soldier is welcomed back home (scene from Valparaiso workshop)

In recent times, the University of Valparaíso has proven a great place to prove new ideas. The students tend to be quite idealistic and their experience with the teacher Patricia Gunther has exposed them to value of regional folk culture. The workshops have all focused on the life of objects. Previously we’ve explored designing objects inspired by the queca dance, drawing on the power of the ‘cosita’ (the little thing) and creating charms in response to the earthquake (this led to the exhibition Southern Charms).

This year, the workshop followed from the Welcome Signs exhibition to consider how objects of welcome might be designed to deal with specific situations. About 46 students formed groups to determine their target context, design the object and then perform its presentation.

The situations chosen were reasonably familiar ones, such as entering university or greeting tourists. But the objects they developed were quite novel, and looked at how to realise local Valparaíso culture in material form. For example, one plate was designed for use at a ritual of ‘once’ (afternoon tea) and contained papa-pletos (buns filled with fried potatoes) for sharing with a newcomer from the south of Chile.

But what stood out particularly were the performances. This seemed a particularly dynamic way for groups to work together on social design. One especially dramatic moment was acted out as the scene of a soldier who was welcomed back by his family. He was garlanded with a ‘mock chain’ expressing the family’s wish that he stay. But distraught at his inevitable return to service, the soldier threw down the metal garlanded but pocketed the heart adorned it.

This workshop was a promising start, but I felt it could be taken further by exploring less obvious situations. There are many common contexts in modern life where a small individual sign of welcome could make a big difference, such as going into hospital for surgery or moving into a new neighbourhood.

But the challenge at the end was how to channel the students’ idealism for a more welcoming world in a way that would survive the inevitable stresses of modern life. Give a couple more years of education and we’ll see what they can come up with.

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