Interview with Designer matali crasset

March 15, 2016 | By Dorothée Charles
matali crasset, Julien Carreyn, © Theo

matali crasset is an industrial designer by training. With a knowledgeable yet open-minded view of the world, she questions the obviousness of visual codes in order to dismantle them. Her symbolic, hospitality-focused work, such as Quand Jim monte à Paris (When Jim goes up to Paris), is based on a series of visual and conscious perceptions for which she invents new relationships with everyday space and objects. Her proposals are never simply directed towards an improvement of what already exists, but toward a development of typologies structured around principles such as modularity, interlacing networks, etc. She collaborates with eclectic worlds, from electronic music to the textile industry, realizing projects in set design, furniture, architecture, graphics, collaborations with artists, and more.

At WantedDesign, in May, as part of Oui Design, matali crasset will present We trust in wood, an exhibition of a series of objects that came out of a collaboration with local artisans during a residency at Vent des Forêts rural art center in Meuse, France.


Dorothée Charles (DC): Could you present the matali crasset studio?

matali crasset (MC): I can summarize my work in just a few lines: I’m a designer and my approach is about moving towards the contemporary. I envision design as a form of research. I work starting from a position on the outer periphery looking in, a perspective that allows me access to everyday life and also gives me the ability to imagine future scenarios.

My methods are developed through the observation of ordinary practices and the questioning of the organizing principles that govern them. When I did the project Quand Jim monte à Paris (1995) (When Jim comes to Paris), I offered to work on a new “sofa bed idea,” a convertible concept to explore the customs and rituals in daily life. This object is always a work in progress.

Thus, one aspect of my work concerns the seeking out of new types and the task of logically putting together these unrecorded lives.

However, I sense more and more, through the projects that I work on, that this profession is akin to that of the midwife of ideas. It’s becoming less about creating material and aesthetic forms than about teasing out and bringing into high relief the common interests and shared values of society, as well as responding to the movements in these vast networks of exchange. Most of the projects that I work on focus on this dimension of collective and collaborative work.

I’m thinking of some recent projects, the Maison des Petits (House for the Little Ones) at the 104 in Paris; of the Maisons Sylvestres for Vent des Fôrets in Fresnes au Mont in La Meuse; of the Le Blé en herbe school in Trébédan in Brittany with the Fondation de France; and of the Dar’hi in Nefta, Tunisia.

There’s a current that’s focused more and more on the local, that interests me very much. We’re seeing that the contemporary is no longer the exclusive privilege of the urban world.

Clearly I also draw objects, but these objects are neither the focus nor the end of the process of creation: they are but one possible realization among many (an architecture, scenography, an exhibition...) in a given moment, and part of a much larger conception. In the end, it’s the question of creative cohabitation that gives structure to the narratives and stories and which gives meaning to my work.

DC: In 2009 you started the collaboration with Vent des forêts, how did you work with Pascal Yonet (director) and developed the project “Maisons Sylvestres”?

MC: The Maisons Sylvestres project for Vent des Forêts began through a public art commission in 2009; the first of the houses was inaugurated in 2011 and the third is now coming together.

The request came from Pascal Yonet, who had first expressed interest in it. Vent des Forêts is a unique hub for rural art, where the white cube is a forest; it’s a cultural initiative born of a collaboration between six small villages in La Meuse, in which the human takes center stage. The project offers a utopic vision for rural life, it proposes a dynamic cohabitation. The task was to imagine experimental modules for habitation in a wooded area, in order to prolong the artists’s experience of discovery of the forest and of other artists’s commissions.

I had developed a specific methodology for this project: I designed a single form, which I named “metaform”, which allowed for experimentation with different structural hypotheses. By reordering and re-combining the shapes of this form, one can arrive at a space fit to human scale. Each of these houses responds to the desire to live simple and yet extraordinary lives in efficient and optimized spaces, as in a shelter. Yet the structure must also inspire the curious trekker to explore the surrounding woods.

The project came together thanks to local businesses and resources – the woods and forests. We worked with and in conjunction with a technical high school and with a company that works to reintegrate ex-convicts into the workplace, Les compagnons du chemin de vie.

DC: In 2011, the filmmaker Benjamin Crotty has realized Fort Buchanan and filmed in the “Maisons Sylvestres” and in the Hotel Dar Hi in Tunisia. How was your collaboration and your perception of your works through the film? 

MC: Through the mediation of Pascal Yonet, Benjamin Crotty told me he wanted to incorporate a specific architecture into his film; he decided on the Maisons Sylvestres. What began as a short film evolved into a longer project, where the passage of time and the seasons – in a manner paraphrasing the French filmmaker Eric Rohmer – took on a deeper meaning in the narrative. In a similar way, it’s the summer heat that has informed the architecture of Dar Hi, which sits before the gates of the Tunisian desert and the salt plans at el-Djerid.

Along with his artistic director, Benjamin added a domestic touch to the houses, which was their prerogative. The result was something quite unique, so I think it’s good that, once finished, these objects slip from my hand into someone else’s. Here’s proof that these are but tools to be appropriated.

DC: In the project We trust in Wood, you have developed a series of objects with a group of local artisans. Could you describe the process of this collaboration and the objects you are producing?

MC: To try and prolong the experience with the Maisons Sylvestres, it seemed logical for us to focus next on creating a series of objects that would offer simple but rich experiences with wood: eating on wooden plates, cooking in unusual containers... These were developed along with local artisans, who often run one-man productions: wood sculptors, basket weavers, wood or metal turners, wrought iron makers, the Carmelite Nuns. of Verdun.

Obviously, aside from simply making these objects, this project was also about spotlighting men and women in a particular field, with certain methods and skills, and to hopefully lead them on to other adventures and projects.

DC: What are your next projects?

MC: I have a lot of different projects: I’m directing the scenography for an exhibition on the Velvet Underground at the Paris Philharmonic; I’m also preparing an exhibition for the Unicredit Pavilion at the Milano Salon del Mobile, entitled Reinventare un mondo commune (Reinvent the Ordinary), for which I’ll be bringing in young French and Italian designers (3 collectives: Collectif Rond Point, Wood skin, Studio Fluud and Isabelle Daëron).

I’ll also be showing some new publishing projects for Campeggi, Danese and Nodus; and working on a scenography with the pop singer Pierre Lapointe for the 375th anniversary of Montréal.

I just finished an installation in Gwangju, South Korea, at the Asia Culture Center. Reflexcity is a work which searches and demands diversity and togetherness. To refocus on the human being, return humans to the heart of the matter is a common goal in all my projects.

In March, I’ll be working a series of chandeliers for the Musée de Pont Aven in Brittany.

I also just designed an eyeglass collection for Theo, a Belgian eyeware manufacturer.

Interview translated by Ava Kiai.

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