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HAU, Traditional Basque Objects Design Contest

The aim of HAU Traditional Basque Objects Design Contest is to update the design of a traditional object present in the Basque culture. This means that we contribute, on the one hand, to the research and eventual recovery of traditional uses and customs and, on the other hand, to the adaptation, renovation and reinterpretation of traditional objects from the point of view of contemporary design, establishing new relationships with our history and expanding the lines of research and fields of action of design.

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HAU diseinu lehiaketa
HAU diseinu lehiaketa
HAU diseinu lehiaketa

Ultimately the aim is to recover the traces of our ethnographic experience through design, seeking to strengthen links between tradition and contemporaneity by combining respect for and recognition of craft-made design with the experimentation and potential of contemporary industrial design.

The piece to be reviewed in this call is the zizeilu, a wooden bench-table. This furniture is common in the kitchens of the hamlets of all the territories of the Basque Country.

ZURA, the winner

The jury decided to give its award to the project ZURA presented by Uxue Ariztimuño Cenoz, Amaia Baztarrica Ceberio and Olatz Mandiola Sologaistua, and a special mention to EAKO by Aizea Fernandez de Lapeña Larrea and Idurre Elorza Dominguez.

It also selected the projects presented by the following participants for their exhibition alongside the award-winning work: HUKA (Hugo Ostiza Garmendia, Maika Lacunza Arnedo), TXELUA (Unai Zabala Monasterio, Markel Uribarren Arteaga), OHEyou (Sergio Rosinos Vivas, Gorka Olano Eizaguirre), SUSTRAI (Andrea Arruti Etxaniz, Julen Hernandez Etxezarreta), JARGOI (Ander Otegi Blasco, Ibai Calleja Alonso), ECOTXIL (Leire Garmendia Mugica, Garazi Otxandorena Ieregi) eta ZuZüYou (Eneko Merino Sastre).

The contest is organised by Bitamine Faktoria, with the collaboration of San Telmo Museoa, Aranzadi, Mondragon Unibertsitatea, and Ramírez i Carrillo estudio.

The zizeilu

The zizeilu is a functional piece of furniture which was placed close to the fire. The majority of pieces date from the 16th and 17th centuries, although they continued to be manufactured until the 19th century. It is a long bench made from the wood of the pine, chestnut or black poplar. It was positioned along a wall and has a high continuous back reaching from the floor, whose aim was to provide protection from draughts and avoid the dispersion of the heat from the fire. One of the unusual characteristics of this piece of furniture is the fold-away board which is attached to the back of the bench by means of hinges. This board fulfils the functions of a table and has its own leg for support.

Some examples have an enclosed space with curtains, small doors or fine wooden bars under the seat which, taking advantage of the heat of the fire, were used to raise small animals such as hens or rabbits. More sophisticated models contained small cupboards within the enclosures formed by the sides of the back. As for the ornamental aspects, this type of furniture featured restrained decorative carving. Pieces from the 18th century often featured decorative patterns on the upper parts of the pillars of the back, such as a circular cut in the style of a stele, whose exact meaning remains a mystery. The etymological origin of the word comes from the Latin word subselliu(m): sub (low) + sellium (seat). There are many variants in the Basque language, depending on the geographical area, such as zizailu, zizilu, zizilo, züzülü, txisilu o txitxelu, among many others.

Use of this bench-table was restricted to the people occupying the highest position in the farmstead hierarchy. The head of the family or the paternal grandfather sat there, and around them, on three-legged stools at a lower level, sat the sons and daughters. However, when entertaining guests, lower-ranking family members gave up their place as a sign of hospitality. Traditionally, women did not sit at the zizeilu.

The zizeilu at San Telmo Museoa

San Telmo Museum has two pieces from its collection on show in the exhibition. The first is of the rounded table type and is located in the museum cloister. The second example, which is smaller in size, is on show as part of the Tradition Lives On section, in the recreation of a traditional kitchen, showing its original context.


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