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Digging into design: Núria Vila

As part of FIDO contents, we’re gathering here some women designers to talk about some of their works. This section focus on case-studies aims to focus on the method and the strategy to approach a design project, presenting specifically the ideas that stand behind it and the step-by-step process.

Today we’re gonna present the work and the peculiar focus of Núria Vila Punzano. We found it hard to describe Núria simply as a designer because she’s actually many things and just by saying that “she’s a Catalan graphic designer and art director” is not enough. Her work certainly specializes in visual communication, brand identity and packaging design, but she’s also a curator, an artist, a teacher, a sustainable design expert and an avid recycler, all things that stand perfectly inside her practice. Because her motto is “I need my work to make a positive impact on the environment.”

The easiest way to understand all this is by having a look at one of her recent projects. For this new chapter of Digging into Design, we’re going to analyze the work that Núria made for the Museu de la Vida Rural de la Fundació Carulla (Rural Life Museum by Carulla Foundation) and the Fundació Pau Costa in 2020. She was originally in charge of the graphic design for the exhibition Jugar amb foc (Play with fire) but then things evolved for the better, as she told us. The exhibition aimed to make the visitor question and reflect on the current management of forests and rural areas. The intention was to deepen the ecology of fire, generate knowledge around forest fires and reflect on climate change and the sustainability of the current relationship between fire and people. The show opened right before the lockdown started in Spain, and extended to June 2021. Investigation and experimentation are the most important things for Núria when it comes to thinking of a new project, along with the search for interdisciplinary collaborations. And essential are some good clients that think of sustainability as something else than just craft paper.

So let’s go back to the exhibition Play with fire to see in detail her project. The collaboration with the Museu de la Vida Rural in L’Espluga de Francolí, just outside the city of Tarragona, started in 2018 with another exhibition, Plàstic. Genial o pervers, tu com ho veus? (Plastic. Great or perverse, how do you see it?) where she worked as co-curator.

As we have heard, she returned to the Museu de la Vida Rural for a second collaboration, in charge of the graphic design. She was determined to avoid using vinyl for exhibition facilities, design and signage because it generates a lot of waste. So, in the attempt of finding new ways to do her job, she thought of transforming waste into new opportunities, and in this case the leftovers were ashes and residuals from combustion:

That’s how Núria transformed the burnt organic matter of a real fire into pigment to give it a new life. “In this way, while the texts in the room explain and lead you on the journey through the works of great artists, the residuals left by the fire are present and they are the ones who speak” we can read on the project description on her webpage. The texts on the walls were hand-painted with the ashes-ink using a brush, and that’s also the main reason for choosing a sans-serif font. “When I was asked to do the design for the new temporary exhibition Jugar amb foc, I connected with the last fire in the Ribera d’Ebre that started in one of the worst environmental and meteorological scenarios that can be remembered in the country, with a sustained drought, temperatures up to 51°C and gusts of wind favorable to the creation of a large fire that burned 5,000 hectares” she explains on her webpage.

Núria was also asked to create an artwork for the show to be exhibited along with artists such as Joan Miró, Francesc Català-Roca and Chema Madoz. The installation Rebrotar (Regrowth) makes us reflect on the silence that permeates the space after a wildfire, and on the natural transformation from destruction to new life.

Her commitment with the environment and the need to protect the planet has been the motivation to make a change in her professional career. She firmly believes that designers can be the generators of change, and what we have in front of our eyes is the simple fact that it’s possible. It’s been a real pleasure meeting Núria and having the chance to discover such a powerful and smart project. I hope you enjoyed it as we did. See you in the next episode with another brilliant guest.

*** All the images are property of ©Núria Vila, you’ll need her explicit permission to reproduce them

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