Design Within Reach: Inside BA's Underground Creative Scene

Design Within Reach: Inside BA's Underground Creative Scene

A graphic designer with her own line of poetic silk headscarves (she draws the patterns; a writer-friend pens the text), a ukulele habit, and a fondness for all things spontaneous and interdisciplinary, Laura knows that the line between art and play is loose-drawn. She's a regular at local design fairs, muralists' workshops, and artists' vernissages—and a pro when it comes to helping culture-seekers who, eager for something a bit more kinetic than a hushed stroll through the permanent collection, want to actually feel the city's creative pulse.

Always in motion, Laura's lived all over Buenos Aires and scouted much of its richly varied urban landscape—including barrios that have long eluded the attention of outsiders. They may not be aswarm with tourists, but if, like Laura, you know where to look, they're often awash in their own guileless charm. She's in on their secrets, from Villa Crespo's most progressive letterpress studio to Boedo's most orthodox bodegón.

Laura dished on BA's indie art scene, the spiffiest local threads, an inspired all-female bolero act, and her favorite spot for a rallying evening out (hint: it isn't a nightclub). 

 Silk headscarves from one of Laura's recent collections (an original poem accompanies each of her hand-drawn prints).

Silk headscarves from one of Laura's recent collections (an original poem accompanies each of her hand-drawn prints).

So what's the latest in underground art circles these days? Can you point to any aesthetic trend or movement that seems to be influencing BA's design community as a whole?

An enthusiasm for all things retro. Artists are recuperating old techniques and adapting them in surprising ways. Risograph printing is a good example. It's a method that combines old and new print systems to achieve a very cool effect; the colors are contemporary, but the vibe is nostalgic (check out Humobooks, an independent press and local risografía pioneer). 

BA is a great city for retro. Where might you go to catch a glimpse of a bygone Buenos Aires?

There's a bar where I live in Flores called El Balón. The proprietor is a Spaniard—and 95 years old. He's owned the place since the '50s or '60s, and he loves to reminisce about the old days. So you have a beer, maybe a sandwich de crudo y queso, and you talk to Nino about his life. The place has such a wonderful spirit. The waiters are the old. The patrons are old. I love to listen to their conversations. Almost every neighborhood in Buenos Aires has one of these marvelous old bars. In some ways I think they are the essence of our city. 

From a designer's point of view, which of the city's neighborhoods feels the most "now"?

There's a lot going on in Villa Crespo right now—new galleries and restaurants cropping up, independent publishing houses, and print shops where you can buy letterpress posters made on very old machines (Prensa la Libertad is one of my personal favorites!). 

 Laura performing with her poet-friend (and creative partner) Mili at one of their favorite local cultural clubs.

Laura performing with her poet-friend (and creative partner) Mili at one of their favorite local cultural clubs.

Where would you send first-time visitors for a memorable evening out?

Club Cultural Matienzo. It's a cultural center, art space, music venue, and bar located in an old house in Villa Crespo. You can go for drinks or even a bite (the food is very good!) and meanwhile experience many different kinds of visual and performing art. Matienzo offers an amazing mix: design fairs, comedy workshops, film screenings, concerts. I don't usually go out to discos—we have such interesting alternatives here.

Is there an under-the-radar label you'd recommend to travelers interested in local style?

I have a friend who's a very cool clothing designer. Her line, "Petite M", is all about prints. They're quirky and colorful, and she draws them all herself. This past season, her collection (she makes leggings, t-shirts, and dresses) was inspired by the '60s. Many up-and-coming Argentine designers sell their pieces by appointment only from private studios or showrooms, but Petite M actually has a storefront in Belgrano, so you can stop by to browse without calling ahead.

How about a fellow artist or maker who's particularly inspired you?

There are so many cool girl-bands in Buenos Aires that have a real point of view. One of the members of Las Taradas, an all-female mini-orchestra that does swing and bolero, is a musician I deeply admire. Paula Maffía. The first time I saw her onstage, I thought: "She's amazing—I have to be near her!" Soon I started taking voice classes with Paula, and eventually ukulele classes. She's such a generous person. She's done a great deal to help me with my own creative projects. That's what I love about BA's underground scene. You can reach the artists. You can connect. People are really open.

In the Neighborhood: MALBA

In the Neighborhood: MALBA

Creative Criolla: From Argentina via Le Cordon Bleu

Creative Criolla: From Argentina via Le Cordon Bleu