Gaspard Graulich at Crossovers: Exploring Design's Cultural Landscapes
“I don’t want to express my feelings;
I want my objects to make people feel their own”
– Gaspard Graulich
“Prélèvement” N.8 & N.1. All images courtesy of the artist.
View Gaspard Graulich’s works, Prélèvement, in the French Collection for Crossovers.
Many of the writings and conversations here on Adorno Editorial are centered around man’s use of objects in shaping a world of our own, and well this is because that’s what design boils down to at its simplest. At risk of sounding like a broken record, how we choose to engineer a world for ourselves of objects and tools that is in direct opposition to the one that what was naturally given to us, is in its very essence the act that designers carry through on a micro-scale, day by day when a new object is birthed into our world. In order to truly understand contemporary design and the forces that shape our object-driven consumer culture, we need to remind ourselves of how it all started. There was once a time when we were actually quite content with a small depression weathered over the ages by wind and rain into a boulder, where after hours of a relentless search for a suitable water source or nutritious plant life, we could rest for short while if just a moment. This lovely, primordial ancestor of a “chair” had indeed been designed in its own way, a much slower process than today’s designers albeit, but design nonetheless.
So when and why did we become dissatisfied with this stone “chair”, and when did it lose its place in our material world? Some may argue that it never has, that perhaps we can appreciate these functional objects of natural design, along with that of humanity’s design, or an even crazier idea maybe these two wildly different and opposing worlds could meet in the same object. In the Prélèvement series of stools, the hand of mother nature is combined with that of French designer, Gaspard Graulich, in a harmonious, ancient yet contemporary, tribute to a glorified simplicity. The shapes of rough, naturally weathered and carefully curated stone indentations are raised by shimmering brass columns out of the wild forest and into domesticity. Prélèvement reminds us of the world our ancestors left behind while contemplating the direction in which our current world may be heading.
Shifting worlds is an act that Graulich knows all too well, originally from the French island of Reunion, a volcanic outcrop in the tropics of the Indian Ocean, he moved to continental France to begin his journey into the design world. While formal studying offered him a set of tools to realize his visions in a controlled manner, his design practice is shaped from his travels through diverse natural geologic habitats. A self-described design-explorer, Graulich traverses the internal and external worlds to reflect his own life experiences and learning. However, while his designs may tell an emotional story of his own journey, Graulich hopes that viewers rather see a glimpse into their own past; their own, personal, emotionally charged stories.
What are some of the most memorable landscapes you have explored that have inspired your designs?
Even if I have a particular attraction for the deserted rocky landscapes, I cannot say that I directly inspired by them, as it can be with biomimetics. It is more the feeling of a landscape that drives me.
When we use the word « landscape » we have that fixed, postcard type of images that appear. But a landscape is more than visual, it is a combination of smells, winds, textures, … It is a blast of senses and emotions. The type of landscape doesn’t really matter, its interest doesn’t come from its geological or historical aspect, for me it is more about its sudden greatness.
What I like the most is when the landscape surprise you, by the way a track suddenly make turn and it appears to your senses or when the sun makes the clouds disappears and enlighten the mountains, … It is all about that deep feeling of belonging that strike your emotions and make you want to just be, to stay still and feel.
These feelings make me feel Human in its primitive plenitude and full absurdity, they are the starting point of questionings that I want or need to materialize. And I transmit them through object because I live them through matter.
In the Prélèvement series, which you are exhibiting at Crossovers, you were inspired by the sandstone formations in the Fontainebleau forest, what was your process in choosing a shape to capture for your stools, what sort of qualities were you looking for?
I was interested into these rock formations because they have been shaped during thousands of years, and the perception that came through are therefore purely human and even more, personal.
This series is part of a project call Pareidolia were I explore our ability to project meanings into matter. So for the first piece the choice was quite obvious, I wanted to illustrate a basic use so I just choose the rock I was going to sit on.
But the aim of the project was to explore this primitive feeling by choosing some shapes that appears functional, so I wanted to let the intuition do the work in order to explore our ability to project meanings into matter.
In the end it was not as simple as expected, considering that during my roaming my designers brain starts to interfere with some logical and technical thoughts. An important notion emerge : I needed to discover uses when my brain was looking for functions.
From then I decided to add some technical constraints that would narrow down the choices. I wanted the pieces of this first series to be really duplicated from their original site and at the same spatial disposition. So, I’ve started the days by vagrancies between ferns, pines and rocks with my assistant in order to make a first selection of shapes. In the forest a lots of rock shapes are interesting, as they stand out of there natural site and look sometimes nearly unnatural, like human carved. But I had to look for some shapes that can be duplicated as objects and can be interesting outside their natural habitat. Shapes that can really be used in a domestic environment.
I tried to stay in the blur of functionality by stopping my designer instinct. I didn’t want to give a function but to bring the opportunity of a function by letting the owner define the use.
You grew up on the island of Reunion then studied in Paris, Reims and Besançon how was this adjustment, and how did it affect your work at the time?
The change was quite significant, and I think I’m still not totally adjusted, even after 15 years. I always felt uprooted since I left my island and it is probably why I tend to roam and wander.
I never liked cities and coming to Paris was not really part of my dreams. But I came with the strong determination of becoming a designer. I remember a strange sensation during my first days here when I discovered that there was no horizon, just lines and angles with a grey background for a sky.
I moved along but I always felt kind of a strange lag, like it was missing a connection to nature and to the elements. It was pretty basic observations at the beginning but quite representative, such as why in parks the benches are always turned toward the path and not toward a tree or a flowerbed?
That is probably were my reflections started and my projects becoming more personal. I remember wondering about why the nature evolution was not integrated into the design process but annihilated. It always felt strange to see that the modern human seems at a fight with nature, as if nature was challenging its « superiority ». So, I tried since then to bring the understanding of nature into the design process.
How in your work now are you not only exploring physical landscapes but continuing to explore your own cultural landscape?
I like the term of « cultural landscape », it really gives the idea of an inner landscape shaped by our own culture, experience, emotions, … It’s this inner landscape that I tried to explore.
When I work on a project, I don’t want to express my feelings directly, I try to analyze them to better understand how they are triggered, what they are made of, there color, there matter, … I don’t want to express my feelings; I want my objects to make people feel their own.
It is the same with my physical and cultural landscape. Two years ago, I felt like my Island was fading away from me and I needed to go back, I needed to explore it alone in order for me to re-appropriate these landscapes, theses waves and clouds, mountains and winds…
It was so intense I decided to make a whole project about it, about the way to transmit the feelings of a landscape through matter and function. So, I roamed with my camera, trying to capture fragments of textures, combination of matter, light and color, and I used them like samples of memories for creating a collection of furniture and object that tried to express the intensity of a landscape. This project is called « Nostalgia of a landscape » and will be hopefully revealed soon.
What do you think the importance is of representing these landscapes and explorations in design objects, when it comes to sustainability?
The particularity of the design field is to be at the crossing of two impacts, the physical and the psychological.
But there is also a strong dichotomy as a designer when the job is about « how to create? » or « what to create? » even though the main question should be « does it has to be created? ». The responsibility of a designer is for me to know when not to create. This duality made me over-intellectualize a project until emerge obviousness.
But in the industrial scale there is less voice for the designer’s perception and more for the economic projections, and I understood that my way of work was more interesting at the scale of art, which is the scale of the thought.
It always seems important to act on the mind by creating objects that impact and transmit values. So, I push my reflexions until emerge what feels worse to be created. And because a valuable object will be kept, possessed and transmitted, my approach of sustainability is to give trough those objects that will be kept a better understanding of our connections to what’s surrounds us.
I try to reconciliate us with our species, to feel back that connection to primitivity from which we slowly move away. That is why I try to look beyond the social and cultural prisms to reach and explore the human interactions with matters and landscapes.
Gaspard Graulich sees himself as a designer-explorer. Born in Reunion Island in 1983, he studied industrial design in Paris, a conceptual approach of design in Reims, and had a specialisation in sustainable design in Besançon. But it’s more his roamings through the African, Australian and north American deserts that shaped him, along with the profound connection to nature and landscape he cultivated during his childhood in a tropical volcanic island. From a quest for understanding that drove him from the age of 2 to dissemble everything he could lay his hands on, he has become a designer obsessed by object, its meanings, its functions, its purposes, its interactions. He has been leading for years an exploration about interactions between human and matter, in which lays the origin of object according to him, where ethnology and philosophy merge with technics, history and prehistory, … This both functional and conceptual approach take shape in various ways : writings, photographs, made-to-order pieces, experimental research, creations for editors, or small series pieces that he implements in his troglodyte workshop.