Matali Crasset creates objects and worlds bursting with colour and life, marrying honestly with eccentricity. From the smallest objects to spatial design, the French designer’s bold language questions the fundamental way things are used and people move through spaces. Her research focuses on modularity, flexibility, and appropriation. Products often straddle multi function, breaking through specificity into democracy. Spatial products to have that quality, which are highly compatible with high, living conditions in urban situations. Her unique design language has found its way to not only hospitality destinations and education centres, electronic products and scenography, but also the most ubiquitous domestic objects, such as a customisable steel wardrobe and a mobile light inspired by railway lamps for Swedish furniture megamoth Ikea, and also objects and lights for Alessi and Danese.
Prior to establishing her eponymous studio in 1998, Crasset worked for Denis Santachiara in Milan and then Philip Starck and later Thomson Multimedia Electronics Group where Starck was artistic director.
At the 2015 Temporary Ikea pop-up in Milan, she created METOD, a inventive kitchen system solution that puts the child literally at the centre. Inspired by playgrounds, the set up has a child’s bed and play area in the middle, allowing parents to watch and interact with their child while cooking. Says Crasset, “‘I like to think of this kitchen as an island with a natural flow or circulation…what I really love about this kitchen is that it turns the typical hierarchy upside down with the child constantly in the center. it’s a kitchen that opens us up to new ways of living.”
Indeed, upsetting hierarchy as an approach has led to many unexpected encounters, experiences and forms. Observing how people interact in her spaces is most interesting. One recent example is an installation in Singapore – ‘The Dynamic Lines of Our Nest’ for the National Museum’s ‘The Way We Get Together: Singapore’s Playgrounds 1930 – 2030 exhibition that runs from 20 April to 30 September 2018. As the interactive sculpture’s name suggests, it is like an abstract nest that invites users – from crawling babies to curious adults – to lie down, run around and move the structure with the turn of a lever. Within the iconic rotunda of the museum, the gay colours, fluid lines and theatrical scenery evokes the wondrous feel of a fairground in miniature. Here, opposites collide to create a special experience – history and the now, the decorative and abstract, the pure white walls and the bright yellow and green, the usual institutional quiet punctuated with squeals of delight.
We are happy to have Crasset share more about the installation, her ideas on design, and her childhood where boredom sparked fantasy and dreams.
Can you share some favourite memories of your childhood that were important to you in shaping your current career? What were your favourite past times?
My parents were farmers in the Marne valley. I spent my childhood with my twin sister and two brothers in a small village of 80 people in the Marne department. I was so bored when I was a child. The power of my fantasy comes certainly from there as does my ability to build by abstraction. The fields and especially the shed and barn were our playground, The games, in particular with hay stacks, have certainly unconsciously focused my interest and inclination for modularity.
“Her work that has imposed itself from the years 90 as the refusal of the pure shape, conceives itself like a research in movement, made of hypotheses more than of principles.” This description is found on your website, describing your methodology. Can you explain more, using some of your projects as illustrations?
Design came straightforwardly from what I learned at the ENSCI – Les Ateliers (École Nationale Supérieure de Creation Industrielle, or Higher school of industrial creation) in Paris, which was the only school there that trained people in industrial design at that time.
For my degree, I worked on the idea of extended function. I had this intuitive idea that one function per object was not generous enough. I showed three objects forming a ‘domestic trilogy’ that was really an attempt to see how far one can really extend an object’s function by putting givens in it:
An image projector – an added function, a poetic extension of the function
And from memories, this Image brought back a souvenir for us
That is the know-how of our profession – not only to make a function but to add to it…And I realised that it was from there that things became passionate for me because we escaped solving issues, formal problems; we had this possibility of giving breath to a whole world and ideas that are essential for me. It matters little to me to make a new object – one more object -but instead, an object carrying a vision of society, a vision of life together, an engaged object.
As my projects proceeded, I began to work with furniture and the first project that engages in this idea of a life scenario was ‘Jim goes to Paris’ – a column when Jim was not at home but when Jim arrived, could be deployed and become a space. There is this metamorphosis of an object with potential, which can be activated in a moment and can propose a life scenario, in this case, a space when Jim arrives, a space is offered for him to feel at home.
I did not want to make furniture that is formal. Of course, we have this notion of comfort but I start with the principle that comfort can be offered in different ways and therefore this column of hospitality proposed a life scenario.
We can have this process just as well at the level of the object as at the level of the space – on different scales. When I worked on this knife with manufacturer Forge de Laguiole for the renowned pastry chef Pierre Hermé I demonstrated that a tool that has been purified over the centuries [can still be reinvented]. The pastry knife cuts, but we turn our hand a quarter angle and it becomes a cake or pie server; it is something obvious and fluid.
This calls up a second idea, which is to stop working on objects that are hyper-specialised, that has this intelligence of working based on transitions, [assisting us to go] from one activity to another, based on fluidity. In a way, it is a matter of working on life itself, because life is in movement and only a succession of still pictures. In motion, life is multiple and evolving.
Design has no relation with shape, for me; in any case, that is not where the challenge or interest of this discipline develops. One can spend a lifetime designing the curve of a chair and aligning them, but why one more? Design, and its challenge for me is the relation to life and inscribing objects in a space at the centre of which is human exchange.
Colour is such a poignant feature in your work. Where does this love of colour and graphical forms come from? Why do you think many designers refrain from embracing colour, choosing instead to lean towards the ‘safety net’ of neutrality and minimalism?
I just feel like I use color as we should use it. In Europe, we are afraid of color, we forbid color. When we are small, we love particular colors, then it evolves constantly throughout our lives. To remove colour is a little like being forbidden to live. However, we know the benefits of color on our mental state. Color is a language much more universal than form. Reading a form requires interpretation but colour generates a more instinctive interaction, without filters. I use color as an ally. It allows me to break the codes and thanks to color I can clarify the scenario of living proposed in the space.
I also like working with light because as it is both more restrictive the result is often doubly magical. Light has its own logic that must be understood if we want to tame it. It requires a great subtlety of intervention, to achieve great simplicity at the end.
Let’s talk about your installation at the National Museum of Singapore, ‘The Dynamic Lines of Our Nest’, commissioned to encourage families to interact with the space. What were the inspirations behind the design? Also, let’s talk about designing for young minds. What have you come to realise in designing for this category and what else to you hope to experiment with?
The project proposes a new typology of space for children and parents. The intention of the project is to bring back originality to the playground. The project has its own design but also its own logic in between an art installation and a workshop in a museum. At the same time, the actions proposed to kids and parents are very easy to understand and universal in term of the game proposed.
I have done many spaces with the idea of mixing natural and artificial. I try to understand why we feel so good in nature and try to re-inject some ingredients of its potential into the space. Kids feel free in nature because they can easily use their imagination. Nature is the starting point and they are able to imagine a lot of different scenarios to play in it. It’s, in a way, a co-creation of play by kids and nature together.
The structure need first to escape from reality by bringing a surprise and at the same time an entire world to be surrounded in. The project isn’t copying nature but aims to recreate a natural rhythm and potential, which could be as interesting for kids and parents.
The starting point of the project is a visual effect called ‘moiré’, which is obtained by the use of different layers of stripes. Three levels of concentric stripes are hung from a metallic ring attached to the top of the rotunda and are gathering in the center at three different levels around a vertical stick. The reference I got in mind to materialise the central support is the pin of Norfolk (araucaria heterophylla). This tree is natural but at the same time so graphic it is almost something artificial.
By entering the rotunda, the installation is surprising by its size even if it’s only made with stripes. The visual effect is visible first when you turn the installation, only by walking. The visual effect is obtained at that place by a play with parallel stripes.
The installation also invites one to stay longer, to sit under the ‘tree’ on long chairs and appreciate the setting. To get more of the ‘moiré effect’, the centre of the second layer turns thanks to a handle place near the trunk of the ‘tree’, in order to make the stripes move. The graphic effect is obtained, in this case, by changing the angle of the stripes of one layer.
It will be a perfect place to lie down with a baby. It’s a installation that is also an invitation to be surprised,
to stay and feel the space,
to stay and relax.
You are from France. What peculiarities about this city are there that you are fond of and that you would like your children to experience? What are some wonderful places and experiences to bring children to where you live?
In Paris the Stravinsky’s fountain by Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle is an amazing place, which brings smiles to everybody.
I have designed a ‘maison verte’ (green house) in Paris according the principle of Françoise Dolto in the 104, La Maison des Petits. It’s a space to learn for both children and parents. It’s also a very lively place where there is so much to see – young actors, acrobats, musicians playing there in the giant hall of le Centquatre.
What have been some of the most exciting and defining moments in your career?
Perhaps the adventure and partnership with Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chapelet, creative entrepreneurs, from Hi Matic Hotel in Paris with Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chatelet, to Hi Hotel by the beach in Nice and now the Dar Hi – a new concept of eco-retreat in Nefta, Tunisia. But it’s not just a hotel; it’s a way to reimagine life in the oasis.
What are your passions and how do you aspire to share them with your child?
For my children I aspire to share the spirit of independence. Popline is soon 19 years and is interested in fashion, Arto is 15 years old and more interested to write scenarios for video games. Childhood is part of our life, I have designed for children before having my kids.
(Complete this sentence) Play to me is:
photo credit: courtesy of Matali Crasset’s studio unless otherwise stated