Yesterday was my first Diada de Sant Jordi (cat. St. George’s Day), one of the greatest celebrations I’ve seen in Barcelona so far. Are you familiar with the legend of St. George? It features everything that comes to one’s mind when thinking of a proper medieval ballad: a dragon, a sword, a knight, and a princess. The story begins with a city of Silene, in which one bloodthirsty dragon delighted so much, that it decided to arrange its nest on the spring that provided water for the whole town. Every time the citizens wanted to collect water from the spring, they would offer the dragon a sheep, and if they were lacking one, there was only one substitute: a virgin maiden. As poor virgins were chosen by drawing lots, there was little to be done when the selected maiden happened to be the princess. Luckily enough, just as she was about to be presented to the dragon, Saint George appeared, and protecting himself with a sign of the cross, slaughtered the dragon with a sword, and freed the princess. It is believed that out of the dragon’s blood a beautiful scarlet rose bush bloomed. That’s why in many places (including Catalunya), the St. George’s day is known as the day of a book & a rose. Women are given red roses by their partners or friends, and in return, they are expected to give them books.
Leaving the legend aside, April 23 is also known as the World Book Day. The date hasn’t been picked in a random way, as on that day both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died. It is a great festivity of writers, publishers, libraries, and bookshops. Also many other cultural institutions — such as museums and galleries — celebrate that day with special events. I have been preparing myself for Sant Jordi with a growing excitement because I’ve heard of how important it is for Catalan people. I went through the offer of many places in Barcelona and decided to enrol for a free guided tour to the Centre for Documentation of one of my top favourite museums, Museu del Disseny de Barcelona. Opened in 2014, it’s located in a very diverse part of the city, a stone’s throw from Jean Nouvel’s emblematic skyscraper Torre Agbar, and not far from Sagrada Familia. It houses four floors of exhibition space, a research centre (Centre de Documentació) consisting of an archive & a library, a space for workshops and other educational activities, and a cafeteria. I could spend long hours praising Museu del Disseny for it really should be a role model for every institution dealing with design, and applied arts. The permanent collection is presented with excellent taste. The research activities are comprehensive. The architecture is both functional and visually attractive, being minimalist enough to serve as a perfect neutral background for the opulent permanent collection.
The guided tour to the Documentation Centre was carried out in Catalan, which was a great exercise for me, as I have recently begun learning Catalan on a course organised for foreigners living in Barcelona. It’s a strange feeling when you understand around 85-90% of what you are being told, but you can’t respond with a single word. Anyway, both guides and other participants were exceptionally friendly, making me absolutely comfortable during the whole tour. The event was prepared in a way that allowed us to witness different areas of the Documentation Centre’s activity. The staff told us about their everyday duties, illustrating their talk with some interesting objects that they have had an opportunity to work with. Provided with some protective gloves, we were invited to touch every object that had been shown to us, just to feel its texture and take a closer look. At first, we were introduced to the section dealing with artefacts connected with visual branding, visual identity design, etc. With an example of a bottle of famous local eau de cologne called Agua Brava we discovered the whole process of branding & rebranding and learned how many elements have to be put together in order to express the character of a certain product.
Later, we moved to another section of the Documentation Centre, where we had a unique opportunity to hold the original Olympic torch created for the Olympics in Barcelona (1992), and learn every step of the process of its production. Did you know that before even the torch itself was designed, André Ricard had first conceptualised the shape and colour of the flame? We were presented a sequence of photos taken during the experiments held at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, showing different forms of flame — dense or extensive, more or less regular, smoky or vivid. I suppose that the choice of objects presented to us during the tour hadn’t been random — the conceptual sketches and projects of the Olympic torch have recently been donated to the Museu del Disseny collection by the designer André Ricard himself. It’s amazing how quickly the Documentation Centre incorporates objects into the museum’s collection and makes a good use of them.
Later on, we caught a glimpse of how the section responsible for the collection of fashion functions. We were shown two volumes full of fashion illustrations from the mid-fifties, presenting outfits (inspired i.a. by the collections of Christian Dior) that could be found in one of Barcelona’s fashion boutiques. Some of them were haute couture projects, while others seemed more casual. The illustrations have been donated by their author, a former owner of a fashion boutique in Barcelona — a fine and elegant lady as we could assume by looking at the photos of her taken in the 1940s or 1950s.
It took us some 1,5 hour to complete the tour, and before we parted each of the participants was given a tote bag packed with gadgets and promotional publications on current exhibitions & museum’s mission. I couldn’t have imagined a better way of celebrating my first Diada de Sant Jordi than getting to know the secrets of an institution that I have such a huge admiration for. I’m sure it wasn’t the last time I participate in the activities prepared by Museu del Disseny de Barcelona, and I highly recommend that you become familiar with its mission. There are very few institutions that have such a great respect for their visitors, making almost every part of their collection accessible. It’s a dream place for researchers, students, or simply people passionate about design. Do visit this museum when you come to Barcelona. I bet you won’t regret it (nor forget it).