UNILABOR: A TERCEIRA VIA. WORKS BY GERALDO DE BARROS (1954 - 1961)
Barcelona based Gallery, Side Gallery had on show a select group of works manufactured by Geraldo de Barro’s working collective, Unilabor. De Barros entered this manufacturing story, with the friar Joao Baptista Pereira. Together they materialized the idea of creating a small factory according to principles of community work. Geraldo, who had already begun to venture into furniture design, proposed to Batista that this should be the business. He explained that his acting in this universe was a natural consequence in the work of a concrete artist. The meeting between religion and art resulted in a project that envisaged a generous and daring initiative, committed to producing simple, and functional furniture within reach of the Brazilian middle class. The project was utopian, since it would not be a traditional factory, but a community of artisans. At first, Barros was only designated to design the pieces that would be manufactured, however, it went beyond this task and implemented a method of collective work in partnership with the carpenters.
Unilabor was a unity through work. Workers participated in managing the factory and in the overall creation of a system of production that aimed to unify not only form and function, but also a living community and production processes. The discreet beauty of Unilabor furniture pieces is certainly informed by this balance of forces.
"Barros was only designated to design the pieces that would be manufactured, however, it went beyond this task and implemented a method of collective work in partnership with the carpenters"
The tension that affected the products of the national wave of industrialization is clearly absent from the relaxed, warm lines of these pieces. In its context, Unilabor quickly became a social model. It was a working environment that was perceived as healthy to work in. It was also created to be less a company, more a community.
The other two founding members of Unilabor, the engineer Justino Cardoso and the toolmaker Antônio Thereza provided specialist knowledge and skills while Geraldo de Barros made the drawings. Geraldo’s approach to design was very humanistic. His intention was to socialise art and its messages. By using the products, he designed for their daily activities, owners of Unilabor furniture were using art. For Geraldo, the designer’s role consisted in mediating between society and industry, aiming to solve the tension between quantity and quality, typical of capitalism by advocating quality in mass production. João Batista and Geraldo certainly agreed that if manufacturing was only ruled by market trends, it eventually became informed by quantitative interests only, with a disadvantageous effect on the quality of the produce and on the working and living conditions of the workmen.