An international showcase for modern design, the 23rd Milan Triennale, which takes place from 15 July to 11 December 2022, brings together 400 artists, designers and architects and 23 international pavilions. A thematic exhibition (Unknown unknown. An introduction to the mysteries), organized by Ersilia Vaudo, astrophysicist at the European Space Agency, presents more than a hundred creations by the greatest designers, including Yuri Suzuki, Irene Stracuzzi, the SOM collective, Refik Anadol … Francis Kéré, winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize 2022 – the architects’ Nobel – designed the triennial’s common room and installation Yesterday tomorrowhonoring Africa and its diasporas.
It was a great opportunity to give a new generation of French designers the chance to make their proposals known in such an international forum. That is why the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs have entrusted the French branch of the triennial to an interdisciplinary team, winner of the competition launched by their operator, the French Institute. This team, formed around the designer Pablo Bras, consists of Juliette Gelli (graphic designer, visual artist and set designer) and Romain Guillet (set designer and designer).
Without even being able to talk about a school, the three young artists, aware of a spirit and methods they share with their colleagues, were keen to call fifteen of them to participate in their project. Their common point? Want to observe the present instead of imagining the future. To exhaust the combinations, the potentials. Take a better look at our daily lives and its objects, let them reveal unimaginable uses and forces. Interview with Pablo Bras.
Pablo Bras, what made you compete for the creation of the French branch of the Milan Design Triennial?
Pablo Bras: I’m a designer and I did not expect to become an exhibition curator one day! Only the competition launched by the Institut français came at a time when in my work, and especially what I had made for the Agora du design, I wanted to elaborate on certain themes. Making an exhibition where I played on this new feature for me allowed me to nuance and expand the proposal by inviting other artists to present their works. It was a matter of jointly constructing an argument and giving their full place, especially to certain artists who express neighboring forms with great force. It was also an opportunity to connect pieces and practices that only rarely cross each other.
So I asked Romain Guillet and Juliette Gelli, both designers, to join me. Together we have designed this French exhibition space, which is in itself a project: the design of a relational space between everyday forms and artifacts, which in themselves are the works of the guest designers. The approached designers have all agreed to join this project using its methodology. The success of the competition confirmed to us that the project could repeat a certain topicality to which the jury was sensitive.
How does this very special space present itself concretely?
First, imagine a large palazzo built in the 1930s, where this great event is held, with a dedicated space, the “Galeria,” which hosts the Triennial’s international pavilions, including ours.
The scenography of the French department is all made of brick. It’s almost a decoration. The floor is completely covered. Romain suggested that these bricks be removed in places to build small architectures on which the objects of the guest artists are placed, which supports that he himself designed. The compacted soil technique also allowed Juliette to engrave the bricks. She has designed a system of cartels resting on “anchors” on the ground, kind of visual hooks, which refer to serigraphs attached to the walls. There are twenty-eight items that represent about fifteen designers, knowing that we have also brought into play a few industrial items that were previously designed by designers whose names have not reached us.
We sought to prepare an experience for the public with objects not only on display but in use, or at least in situations. So when the situations were generated in our eyes in this space, the relationships materialized and the necessity of certain objects appeared to us so that the others could function. For the most part, these are simple everyday items (eating, drinking, turning on, cleaning, etc.), mostly manual items. Some are used, others are consumed. There is a shovel and a broom, inflatable hammocks to sit on, a speaker to disperse sound, “Duralex” glasses, “Le Parfait” jars … The search for these items was really interesting. For example, if it turned out that a lamp was needed, we tightened our selection criteria according to our principles until we identified the one required by the situation.
In this regard, you have also settled on the economy and ecology of this space …
We were able to trust the intervention of the guest designers. Some pieces were actually produced on site, not to mention the food itself. To give you an idea, compared to this space of 90 m2 filled with objects, the “imported” pieces, all clear, represent only the volume of a pallet. Even the ink for the serigraphs was produced on site, thanks to a recipe developed by Juliette.
The idea is still to make an exhibition that consumes a little energy, and that the objects, as well as the scenography, if they are produced for the occasion, are subsequently reused, or consumed. As for the 2200 bricks that materialize this space, they were pressed manually with soil from around Milan, thanks to Pietro Degli Esposti, Italian architect specializing in eco-materials and founder of the “Matierra” studio. They will then be recycled, into a permanent scheme.
This interest in the combination of objects immediately places the space of the French department at the heart of the theme of the Triennial …
When we look at an object, if it gives us a certain amount of information, such as its shape, its size, its weight, it does not tell us how it is made or where it is going (its reprocessing, its recycling, its recycling). But, more importantly for me, we are also not trained to observe the phenomena that arise from the combination of these objects. The system of objects remains largely opaque to us. And that’s what we seek to highlight in our exhibition space, by putting the objects in a situation to be experienced, tested, used in a network of relationships, from which situations arise that we cannot guess.
This theme, “Unknown Unknown. An Introduction to Mysteries”, because it was chosen by an astrophysicist, Ersilia Vaudo, could aim at the infinitely large and the infinitely small. For us, there is the most misunderstood familiar in everyday life, in this game of objects , forms and materials that already exist those that we do not know to all the potentials. To test new mixtures, new relationships can bring something completely new. For this purpose, our purpose is to try carefully to observe the present that surrounds us, that discover what can be reconfigured and assembled, and produce new, future art.
Exploring the unknown means seeking to see clearly into the very uncertain future of the present. Rather than the idea of projecting ourselves into the future, we prefer to “live in the unstable”. It is not a question of renouncing progress, nor is it a matter of registering for or against the industry, but of approaching this unknown future, which will emerge from our actions, by precisely taking an interest in for today’s combinations. Instead of projecting futuristic visions onto objects, we try to look as closely as possible to see what is present with the greatest sharpness.
In this sense, we do not have the ambition to solve societal problems or even to initiate new practices, but simply to bring about a change in the attitude of designers, and perhaps more broadly, of the technical sciences themselves. Also greener, more humble methods. In this approach, we rely on a number of important anthropologists and philosophers, such as Donna Haraway or Anna Sting (End of the World Mushroom), whose work consists in studying these combinatorial phenomena between objects.