by Maria Serra, Onclaude Founder
The French designer Matali Crasset shares with us her views on the role of the designer, the "ingredients" of good design and the importance of collective and collaborative work, explaining why reinventing the purpose of an object, rather than imagining objects that ‘make sense’, is her most exciting challenge.
1 Two words that inspire your work are “generosity” and “empathy”. What do they mean to you?
A connection with objects and, without a doubt, a relationship to life. We’re so often told to imagine objects that ‘make sense’, but I prefer to try to reinvent their "purpose".
Instead of in effect trying at all costs to depict the purpose of an object through its form and abiding by the codes of each area - for example, a radio, which brings to mind ‘sound’, will never be designed as a toaster, which brings to mind ‘heat’ - I try to rediscover, in my imagination, the power behind the usage of an object.
After my diploma at Les Ateliers - ENSCI, for example, I designed three objects that I called ‘light diffusers’ to really emphasise what they do and not what they are. I created this ‘domestic trilogy’ to complete the notion of the purpose of an object by giving it three dimensions: functional, poetic and imaginary. This project was the beginning. It made me realise that the savoir-faire of the designer lies for the most part in this combination. So the role of the designer is to get to grips with the ‘ingredients’ that make up an object, so that they support the intention behind the object i.e. the very reason for its existence. This complexity in the creation process makes the work fascinating. It demands a great intellectual rigour.
If you take furniture, its function is, of course, realised by the scene from life around it. That allows me to make propositions outside of the existing codes, but also to reaffirm the values of sharing and hospitality, which are the bases of my work. Furthermore, a piece of furniture isn’t intended to stand alone, like a single star, but together with the other fittings and furnishings that make up the house. This tempts me, of course, to develop concepts of modularity, fluidity, change and the idea that devices are not constant, something which enables you to better approach space by allowing different things to coexist rather than piling them or superimposing them on top of each other. This is what I mean by life "scenarios". Each project has a goal: to bring hospitality back to the heart of the house with Quand Jim Monte à Paris (When Jim Comes to Paris), opening up spaces with Open Room, etc.
Creating objects that are going to amount to more than just an exercise requires starting from a goal, starting from a subject that brings us together, with an approach that I would call empathetic, and, quite simply, guiding the object so that it takes shape in a form that matches the values that we defend in this world. For a space, it’s the same. I look out for the imprint the space is going to leave and I think in terms of life in the space, not in terms of colours, material or shape. The reasoning that carries each project allows one, little by little, to draw out a formalisation, a realisation that is unstoppable when you think of the goal and the concept developed at the start. Form is not the driving force of my work.
2 Is design innovation about creating new meanings or re-interpreting existing ones?
Taking a step to the side allows you to look at things from a new angle. I decided to delineate life, to move off centre to be able to look at the evidence again and propose other dynamics, all the time feeling that you're the driving force behind these developments and that you control your own choices. Perhaps illogically, I view this work, through the projects that I manage, like that of midwife, of "maieutician". It’s less and less a matter of giving shape to a material - of aesthetics - but rather of drawing out, of uniting, of organising, common goals and values, relationships and networks of expertise, cooperation and sociality.
Most of the projects I’m currently working on highlight this dimension of collective and collaborative work. I think of the recent Maison des Petits (House for the Little Ones) project at the Centquatre arts centre in Paris; of the Maisons Sylvestres (ecological shelters) part of the Le Vent des Forêts initiative in Fresnes-au-Mont, Meuse; of the Le Blé en Herbe school in Trebedan, Britanny with the Foundation of France; of the Dar Hi hotel in Nefta, Tunisia. Obviously, I also design objects, but objects are neither the middle nor the end of the creation process; they’re one possible realisation among others (a structure, a stage design, an exhibition…) at a particular moment, within a wider system of thinking.
3 You often question people’s notion of space. What is your personal idea of space and how do you challenge it in your everyday life?
I try to make spaces as open as possible, like platforms in which life can exist and also evolve. In this sense, I’m not a builder of walls; there’re always lighter solutions. This is illustrated in my way of approaching design through scenes taken from life and usage in which object and space are at the heart.
Born and raised up in a farm located in a small village in north of France, Matali Crasset graduated at Les Ateliers - ENSCI in Paris and is an industrial designer by training. After working with Denis Santachiara in Italy and Philippe Starck in France, in 1998 she set up her own studio in Paris, in the heart of the Belleville district. That year she exhibited her iconic bed-clock-lamp installation "When Jim Comes to Paris" at the Milan Furniture Fair, within the Salone Satellite show dedicated to young designers, and since then she has experimented in many different design fields, from scenography to furniture, interior design and graphics.
One of Matali's latest work, Picoland, is a playful collection of fashion apparel designed for Okaïdi. The collection includes 20 clothing items for boys and girls (from 4 to 12 year olds) and is complemented by a small line of accessories with jewellery, bags, and hats.
"For Okaïdi, I created a fictional world. It's a world built around a diamond, a fun and unique shape that generates an entire alphabet of "pico" shapes which add more spice to life! Picoland opens the door to a whole new world with its own animal and plant life, landscapes, and inhabitants", explains Matali.
For the iconic Italian kitchenware brand Alessi, Matali has recently designed a collection of geometrical-shaped trays in different sizes and colors. The larger irregular hexagon-shaped tray is called "Territoire" (territory), the smaller tray in the shape of pentagon is called "Territoire intime" (intimate territory). The designer has also created a series of stop-motion animations where the two objects are used to tell a meaningful story about a few key concepts related to the idea of "territory", such as "territory redestribution":