Monday, March 27

On the hunt for mythical signs: “We preserve the history of the most iconic businesses before they are demolished”

Federico Barrera’s history with his ‘Santatipo’ project goes back long before it existed. Specifically, he begins with the stories that his family told about his grandparents’ bar, where they commented on the life he always had and how famous his mussels were. Thanks to those stories, he began to think that each of the establishments that he saw or had seen on the street throughout his life also harbored anecdotes that deserved to be told.

And the link was found in one of his two passions: graphic design. Just then he realized that the signs of each store implied that intrahistory in which people and events are related, and just then he also reconsidered the possibility of combining his other passion with anecdotes and graphic design: the history. How? Collecting the signs of abandoned businesses and turning them into a still photo with the historical and personal context that was happening at each moment.

“I realized that the value of this process went much further when people began to narrate memory, anecdotes, curiosities… Anonymous protagonists came out and different threads emerged that contextualized and gave even more value to the labels themselves. So they stopped being ‘just’ the labels and became everything that could be extracted from them”, he says with emotion.

It was precisely emotion that brought Javier López to ‘Santatipo’, and that is because this graphic designer was already enthusiastic about the project that Fede had created and had even set it as an example in his design classes, where he took it as a guest for your students. “I officially joined on March 14, 2020, the day the state of alarm was decreed, I will not forget it. That day we went to rescue the Bar Gelín sign, the king of squid rings and a classic in Santander,” he says. Javi.

Although the confinement stopped all movement, the truth is that as soon as it happened, Javi was completely integrated into the project, something that Fede thanks him with enthusiasm: “The truth is that one more hand is noticeable because it is a project that has grown a lot and for the better… The number of labels out there is enormous,” he says. Fede, who is also a graphic designer as well as a historian, by then already had a whole portfolio with photos and documentation of the signs of the city of both, Santander, so it was easy to get down to work for, as they themselves indicate, ” preserve the history of the most iconic businesses before they are demolished”.

The rescue of the labels

When asked how they find out that a sign is going to be removed or taken down, both explain that there are two versions: the desirable one and the real one. Starting with the first one, the ideal thing would be for the project to reach so many people that, as soon as the business closes, the owners or those in charge of the work contact ‘Santatipo’ so that they can pick up the sign.

However, the reality is very different: “The signs are not an element that is protected unless it is within a protection that includes the business itself or the facade in which it is inserted, so it is the first thing that it falls when the premises are demolished and usually ends up in the garbage, as a decoration sale on second-hand pages, or in the house of some architect… It has a plundering purpose,” Fede and Javi point out.

So managing to reach as many people as possible in your case becomes essential since it is the only way that they can find out about any movement that takes place in the reference establishments: “It is the only way to avoid that there are occasions in which that we don’t arrive on time,” they say.

But in the cases in which they do arrive, the first step is to try to talk to the owner to request permission, something that sometimes, they clarify, is complicated because the premises have been closed for a long time. “So, we ask the construction manager, we explain that he does not have a commercial purpose and that it is not that we are crazy about labels and that we want a private collection, but that we want to protect that heritage,” they explain.

And one of the problems that is beginning to surface as the project progresses is where those signs go because, at the moment, they are distributed between Fede’s house, Javi’s office and a small space provided by the Art Museum of Santander (MAS). Their aspiration, in this case, is to have a space of constant and personal use so that they know “for sure” that nothing is going to degenerate or be lost there.

However, their idea is to prepare some kind of exhibition that will allow them to reach their goal: “It is the way to disseminate and raise awareness so that, in the future, everything that is commercial graphics has a preservation site and an environment where it is give it the value it deserves”, they indicate.

“For love at art”

These more than 15 stories that they already have saved represent, for these lovers of graphic design, times, moments and, above all, identity. “These businesses have left an imprint on the city, and not even the processes of commercial unification, centrification or tourism have managed to erase those traces… It is about making the new generations aware that among the streets there are bits of micro-histories that are I think it is a legacy that we can leave them in the future so that they can say that this is their city, not that of the big franchises,” says Fede enthusiastically.

And it is that enthusiasm that has made them continue forward despite the fact that, as they reveal, they do not have any type of help. “It’s for the love of art and it’s a personal project,” they say before commenting that they are already preparing to make the leap and become an association. “It is the only way to be able to opt for slightly larger projects and have actions that have a little more impact… We want to be the interlocutors for the defense of this type of heritage,” they point out.

What is clear, and they are grateful, is that at the moment they are doing very well in terms of disclosure. So much so, that a little less than two years ago, Fede decided to make ‘Santatipo’ a book launched through crowdfunding that has reached many homes, but also Design schools and History faculties.

Without ruling out being able to launch another in the future, they conclude the talk with by reflecting on how interest in graphic heritage has changed in Spain in recent years, something that gives them hope: “Many times they tell you that a label is a piece of plastic, and yes, it’s true, but that plastic has a story and a value behind it… And, graphically, it’s part of our collective imagination because, even if it’s a piece of plastic, people will remember it by name”, concludes Javi.