Gambirarra and the Prototyping Perspective


Presentation Title:

  • Gambirarra and the Prototyping Perspective



  • This essay compares two states of technical objects: the prototype and the gambiarra. While the first is a well-known concept, whose meaning and applications are fairly clear, the second is very particular to the Brazilian context, but could be reasonably associated with practices such as bricollage and making do. I’d argue that these conditions constitute opposite epistemological and historical perspectives over technological development. This hypothesis draws heavily from the ideas of Walter Benjamin, Gilbert Simondon, Vilém Flusser and Jacques Derrida. We depart from the idea that the prototype is an in-between, insufficient object, critical of its own function. However, it critically is always directed towards the closure of the technical entity and the ensuing stabilization of the system. In that sense, it reinforces the positivistic agenda of technological development. We propose to look for a counterpoint of the prototype in the Brazilian gambiarra. Gambiarra is an improvised amendment to a dysfunctional artefact, normally by the means of its combination with another object. Just like prototypes are created based on expectations and the projection of integrity, gambiarras are born from deception and failure. To recover function, the superficial individuality of the artefact must be sacrificed. Simultaneously, another object reveals potentials that were not expected. Their combination results in a technical ensemble whose individuation is performed by the user. Hence, if the prototype narrows the technical object down into concreteness, the gambiarra abstracts it further, at the same time revealing potentials and limitations of its discrete parts.