“For me, ‘home’ means being where I’m comfortable.”
The industrial designer matali crasset sees design more so as a tool to respond to the society’s challenge than the creation of aesthetic value. Her work holds that design is a quest for future scenarios and new typologies for living. She tells us why she is more interested in the formation of coexistence rather than in form per se in an interview that we held with her in the run-up to the Democratic Design Day.
Life at Home: The Democratic Design Day will be held in Lausanne on 22 September 2017. What are visitors to your exhibition going to discover?
matali crasset: My work revolves around what I call ‘lifestyle scenarios’, which in objects translate into ‘usage scenarios’. Now that work can be more global, I like introducing new ways of thinking. So I’ll be presenting a kitchen concept and a completely new proposition for the bathroom that I’ve drafted for the conference.
For over a decade now, my work as a designer has drawn its meaning from how it confronts the social environment. I’ll be making reference to pragmatism, a philosophy that favours experimentation and action – it’s also a philosophy that preaches intervention and creativity. Because they are able to analyse various forms of use and need, designers straddle several disciplines. They develop a universal concept based on an individual, sensitive approach, which makes them favoured points of contact for structural evolution. However, there’s no need to create oversized projects because it is precisely in the gaps where they feel at ease and where they make their move. By doing small-scale experiments in suitable places and by rejecting the roles that each is preassigned, they combine forces and build new networks of constantly evolving relationships. This is why I see the designer as a pragmatist – experimentation and action play a key role here. And to the extent that an experiment transforms the person doing it and changes and enhances how they see the world, it can also impinge more subtly on what is real without imposing a predefined and fixed doctrine. In other words, I push myself to act differently so that I can think differently too.
Pragmatism’s pluralistic vision stands against an understanding that holds that what is real is separate to the descriptions that we give it. So there’s more than one true description of what is real: pluralism provides for an open rationality. Here, therefore, I want to show the diversity of forms that can be taken by the same theme, that of spaces for children, both from an architectural perspective and that of specific teaching aids that have been developed.
The individual isn’t an atom living detached from other people – they are part of the social fabric and help to create genuine individuality and transformation by means of their feedback. So it’s a matter of coming up with new ways of thinking to solve shared problems through joint efforts.
When asked how we will live in the future, your answer is ‘pragmatic solutions’ in terms of design. What does that mean exactly?
In my relationship with objects, I’ve always worked from the premise of extended functionality. I have this feeling that just one function per object isn’t generous enough and that multifunctionality isn’t the solution either. Faced with repeated calls to create objects that ‘make sense’, I prefer to work on reinventing functionality. So, instead of seeking at all costs to represent a particular function by a particular form and to comply with the conventions of each sector – for example, a radio, which produces sound, will never be designed like a toaster, which produces heat – I try to find the power behind various forms of use within my imagination. Since I graduated, I’ve designed three objects that I’ve called ‘diffusers’ to emphasise what they produce rather than what they are. This ‘domestic trilogy’ was about perfecting the functionality of an object by giving it three dimensions: a functional one, a poetic one and an imaginary one.
This was a seminal project for me. It made me realise that a designer’s expertise lies chiefly in getting this balance right. My work therefore consists in successfully handling the ingredients that make up an object so that they follow a purpose – you could say the very purpose of their existence. It’s this complexity in the creation process that makes the work exciting. That calls for a great deal of intellectual rigour. As far as ‘furnishings’ are concerned, this extended functionality quite clearly finds its expression in lifestyle scenarios. This lets me propose things that lie outside existing conventions as well as reaffirm the values of sharing and hospitality that are the cornerstone of my work. What’s more, a piece of furniture isn’t designed to exist in a bubble, like a celebrity, but in conjunction with other fixtures and fittings that make up a house. Obviously, this is an invitation for me to develop ideas about modularity, fluidity, change and fleeting circumstances that allow space to be better characterised by having actions live side by side rather than stacking them up or overlapping them. What I’ve called lifestyle scenarios, in other words.
Your work means that you’re often on the road, living out of a suitcase. What makes you yourself feel truly ‘at home’?
Above all, being at home means being with ‘my people’. I’ve no interest in any external sense of being at home. I can’t understand these hotels that want to ape domestic living. Why would you want to be anywhere else other than at home? More than anything else, life is an experience and a meeting of minds. What’s interesting is to live it in loads of different ways. This is what I developed with Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chapelet when we worked on hotels together [Hi Hotel, Hi Matic, Dar Hi].
Before the Hi Hotel, I’d done a lot of experimenting by creating transient spaces. Patrick and Philippe let me propose experimental spaces that demonstrated how life in a hotel is a lot richer if you ignore the stale conventions of a hotel industry where everything is the same. The hotel has been particularly affected by a drive for uniformity, with an international standard that has become entrenched everywhere. The Hi Hotel took a stand against this by saying ‘Come and have an experience.’ It’s a place for both personal experiences and interaction with others thanks to communal areas that encourage people to meet. Time that we share with other travellers from different walks of life is time well spent and broadens everyone’s horizons. The Hi Hotel feeds off this diversity, like a living organism that fluctuates with the comings and goings of its inhabitants and that draws nourishment from them in order to evolve.
As a designer, you see your work as a study into our everyday lives, our objects and the possibility of questioning society and its modes of living. Where do you think the power of design lies?
It’s becoming less and less about shaping material – aesthetics, in other words – and more so a question of creating, grouping and organising links and networks of competencies, complicities and sociability by means of shared goals and values. Most of my current projects highlight this dimension of collective and collaborative working. I’m thinking of the recent project for La Maison des Petits at 104 in Paris, the woodland houses done for Vent des Forêts at Fresnes-au-Mont in Meuse, the school ‘Le blé en herbe’ in Trebedan in Brittany in collaboration with the Fondation de France, and the platform for the ‘La Cuisine’ arts centre at the Dar Hi in Nefta in Tunisia. So there’s a local element that I’m greatly interested in. It’s clear that contemporaneity is no longer the preserve of the urban space.
Of course, I design objects too, but objects are neither the key component nor the end product of the creation process; they are simply one of many ways in which that process might be updated – one architecture, one stage design, one presentation – at a given point in time, part of a much vaster thought system.
We’ll also hear from a great many design students during the Democratic Design Day. If you were to ask one thing from them as far as their career was concerned – a wish that they commit to a certain cause as a designer – what would it be?
I’m not going to tell them what to do. Every designer needs to take a stance and set their own course. It’s not about aesthetics. For me, design has no basis in form, which often serves to exclude and is just one of the many markers of social reproduction. Rather, I see its meaning as a political act, an action within the community – and it’s that that makes the stakes so exciting. However, it’s up to the individual to set out and back up what they are committing to. The diversity of design, of designs plural, is also where it gets its richness from …