An eclectic and unconventional experimenter, the work of the French designer MATALI CRASSET ranges from interior design, architecture, space, symbols, people and fabrics. It testifies to a world without borders; her works invite dialogue, openness, dynamism and evolution.
LM: I have been following your work for some time and I have to say that I am very passionate about it. Your themes intersect design, interior design, architecture, space, symbols, people and fabrics. You clearly enjoy passing from one field to another and you do it with wonderful ease. I’d like to start from this, from the fact that there are no more borders now, and it is nice to experiment right between the folds and in the spaces left free by a world that is changing. MC: The theme is that I never start a project by thinking about the material; whether it’s architecture or an object, I think first about the function I want to attribute to it. What’s important is not the final production, but giving something profound tohumanity: hospitality, the idea of having a shared space; things that are in short supply in the society we have today. This is why, in the end, the choice of material depends on the players the project is destined to, and so it is very free. There is thought which subsequently becomes matter, but with infinite possibilities of specific materialization. It’s like having a single corpus, which at any moment you can take a piece from to create a project, with a different material for every different context.
LM: I gather you attach great importance to dialogue. At the start of a project, you work on the idea, on the concept that you visualize, which then becomes the protagonist in dealings with your client. MC: Yes, dialogue serves to understand what potential there is to change the society of today through the project. We need to adopt a special point of view, because I have to understand quickly what kind of space I am dealing with, what its characteristics and critical points are, and I must deduce what the possibilities of changing it are. That is my job. Afterwards, I will establish this exchange, this dialogue, with the client to see if my interpretation is correct.LM: So yours is a project that can be changed even after it has been finished?MC: Theidea is not to produce truly finished projects. They are “platforms”; that is, projects that develop over time, with an underlying concept of dynamism. I have always liked the idea of evolution, of the ability to change forms. So, I try to make it interact with all my projects.
LM: So, open platforms, as metaphors for welcoming life, people, their history. MC: Exactly. You cannot work thinking there’s no evolution. There is evolution everywhere and my job is to invite evolution. I think we need to changeour logic quickly, and if we don’t create room for these changes, they will not come to pass, because there is confusion regarding the direction to take. Space can be a very powerful vector in this sense.
LM: I also believe we are experiencing a period of great confusion. Space is changing a great deal, and with it, people’s desires and the way things are experienced are changing, too. Having platforms that invite and welcome is, I think, the most correct direction today. Your work has always been extremely sensual, it has this dimension of play, of colour, featuring all female, hospitable forms. MC: Yes, I like this idea of always being inside the flow of life, not outside it.
LM: As regards this scenario of confusion and potential, how do you think ourwork as creators can act? What do you think is important? MC: For example, at the moment I am working with small firms. At first, the proposal is focussed on objects, but in order to understand the action, I then move on to studying the entire context. Ibelieve it isn’t an issue of the object, or of final production; the problem is changing the vision. How do you acquire this new vision? It seems to me, these days, that design has the ability to determine indications in space, hence the mode of use also becomes completely fixed. At the outset, the idea must be to work on the service, and then gradually try to change the vision, so that people are not afraid of having the tools for thinking, and when evolution becomes a real fact, we must take on an aptitude for change. This is very difficult for the uninitiated: we see the world as a huge possible project. That is why the designer already has this ability, this vision, and this aptitude.
LM: In which of your projects have you seen this open platform system generate consequences that you have seen working? You are working a lot on play areas, community devices, space to configure. Are they all experiments? Like the carousel for the Pompidou “Saule et les hooppies” or “Hippomedia” for Atelier Luma. MC: Yes.“Hippomedia” represents another aspect of my work. It is a mobile micro-museum, intended for small villages that don’t have much opportunity to access culture. In reality it isn’t my idea: Ingrid Brochard created this type of travelling museum, which works well because it is only small. They are mobile structures and they can be transformed through the design of the modules making them up, so it is also easy to adapt them to the desired museum. The clever thing is that every region in France has departments and cultural organizations with their own art collections, and through this experiment it was possible to bring them, entertainingly, among the people.
LM: And what about the carousel for the Pompidou? MC: “Saule et les hooppies” started out as a work of art, but this, too, can be transformed and moved to different settings. The premise of the project was to find a way of showing art to the youngest, so the idea was to recreate moments of grace and joy, to be shared. To reproduce moments like those at the end of school, when children are happy, parents are proud of them, and a shared energy permeates. I wanted this kind of emotion for this intervention. It’s the same with the music, which is the other protagonist of the project; it is an action for everybody, without any difference, we can all learn a song and then sing it together.
LM: How did it work? MC: It worked well. This space serves to unite energies, it is conceived as a simple platform to be moved, transformed, and to become a specific universe each time, always in harmony with nature, and with trees.
LM: Trees are an ever-present feature, are they a kind of deep sign of yours? MC: Yes, the weeping willow is my favourite: it’s like a little hut, a filter between us and the world, you only have to be there to escape from the daily grind and plunge into magic in an instant.
LM: But does this come from your childhood experience, from your life in the countryside? I know that you grew up in a small town. MC: Yes, I have this mentality because I wasn’t born in the city.
LM: You grew up in a small town and then went to study industrial design. How did this become your journey? You also have a strong bond with Italy. MC: My schooldays were, for me, a wonderful, sentimental and generous period, where I had a chance to learn and form my personality. That is why I continue to collaborate with academies, to spread this opportunity for growth and integration of knowledge to everyone. It is very important to be in a generous school, which offers a lot ofpossibilities. After this training experience, I decided to leave France; this step was necessary, and so I thought about who I would have wished to take this plunge with. I was fascinated by Denis Santachiara, he is an eclectic, self-taught, an artist and a designer, his work has always struck me. At first, he dealt with these little Domodinamica projects, and with him I had the chance to show my final project, produced for the specialization school, at the Milan Triennial. Then I decided I wanted to work with him, so I came to Italy for a year. It was a very intense period, and it showed me that there was no difference between studying and working, and that is the finest present a student can receive. There was dialogue, correction, the workshop; there was harmony between everyone,and we were all free to express ourselves and our ideas.
LM: Santachiara is also a very generous and joyful person. MC: Yes. I thought that I wanted the same studio structure for me, too. For him, the size of the project is much less important than the idea that it encompasses.
LM: Like in a small craft atelier. And how is your studio organized? MC: There are four of us, we don’t have a lot of administration to worry about, so we can really dedicate ourselves to the projects. It is a small group and we work very flexibly, moving from project to project like in thought gymnastics.
LM: What are you working on in this period that makes you happy? What do you like to bring to a project? MC: I’m working on a project for a house that can be reproduced in series. We have launched the concept to look for a producer, because it will be built like an authentic object, like a capsule, not like a traditional house; designed for complex environmental and social contexts. It is called “the design house for all”.
LM: And is the goal to make the people living in these spaces happy? MC: Yes, we work with production partners, but the main concept is, above all, to work together, to create this cloud of innovation and focus research on the potential life scenarios inside and outside this house. This is my new experiment, and later we will evaluate whether to construct it in wood or in metal. The important thing is its meaning, then we’ll find a way.
LM: In your projects you pay great attention to materials, assembly techniques, and especially to colours, which is one of your very strong hallmarks. MC: Yes, colour is life. I believe that we don’t use much colour these days because we are a little afraid of life, and so the project can become the antidote to fear. It should definitely be chosen on the basis of the action context.
LM: You have also designed several fabrics. Do you enjoy this? MC: Yes. I have been collaborating with small companies that produce handmade fabrics for a long time, and it is a field I am particularly interested in, especially because a revolution in textile production is going to come soon, and it will make the entire mechanism very problematic. Soon machines will be able to replace all craftsmanship.
LM: Lastly, what is wonder and astonishment in the project for you? What generates them? MC: There is astonishment when you have found the final form, when there is nothing left to modify because you have spent a long time studying and reflecting on that form. Then with the project it becomes evident and is communicated to the others: and there you find the wonder, the pleasure. With time, this emotion brings people together and the spark that I feel is transferred to everybody.
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