ROBERT STADLER AND MATHIEU LEHANNEUR, two designers apprehend time and intimacy in the age of change

When in December, the Carpenters Workshop Gallery based in London opened its doors on Rue de la Verrerie in Paris, in one of the oldest, most prestigious French art galleries, it dedicated a months-long solo exhibition to the designer Robert Stadler and conspicuously placed among objects with more explicit functions Mathieu Lehanneur’s mysterious piece Demain est un autre jour (Tomorrow is another day).

The designers took different paths following their training in industrial design at ENSCI (École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle). Today, both are key figures of “design art”, an object-oriented form of research, neither totally utilitarian nor purely esthetic. Each in his own way confronts his contemporaneity by addressing the individual, as if it were his twin, more than he attempts to conquer the masses, responding with empathy, humor or poetry to essential, if not existential, questions that are not posed.

LEHANNEUR: sky blue

Worrying about today’s or tomorrow’s weather may seem absurd when, lying inside the palliative care unit of a Paris hospital, your days are numbered: 11, maybe 15, no matter your age, and yet… It’s not about getting better physically, observes Mathieu Lehanneur, conscious that death is not the end. It’s about accompanying patients in the most attentive possible way, by recreating their link with the outside world, as they face confinement imposed by illness.

After consulting with nursing staff under the direction of professor Gilbert Desfosses, the designer responded with a sky, an electronic window open to passing time, a luminous bubble capable of generating in real time and 24 hours in advance, the weather of your hometown, the city where your kids live, where your lover lives, or the city where you always dreamed of going: Tomorrow is another day. Besides offering a contemplative, meditative vision, this view of the sky in perpetual movement allows visiting families to rekindle somewhat the banality of everyday life—to strike up a conversation with the patient, in the same way that this occurs between two healthy beings, talking about the weather.

Here, digital technology is used for its capacity not only to provide information from multiple sources at time T, but also to simulate reality at T-24 in an even more significant way than a capture ever could: It wasn’t about producing a video of the sky where the closed loop system would have been totally stressful for a patient who might spend six hours contemplating the same horizon. I wanted to offer a vision of passing time that never repeats itself, by simulating the same instability, the same variations and subtleties of a sky, where the blue or the clouds are never identical. Paradoxally, digital technology was capable of reproducing that complexity.

Mathieu Lehanneur is not a child of the geek generation, and he is the first to admit that he’s a newbie when it comes to programming or 3D drawing. As a designer, however, he knows how to surround himself with specialists, and he called upon Frédéric Mauclère to produce a 3D animation of a sky composed of multiple layers, based on data (cloud density, wind speed, temperature, etc.) taken from various meteorological sites, analyzed in real time.

For more impressionistic than photographic visuals, and to avoid the “TV” effect of a flat screen, the animation is played on small RGB

LEDs through a block of beehives, thus creating a somewhat hazy atmospheric vision and the illusion of volume. The image develops in a very slow, anti-spectacular way, as the view of the sky is only a medium for the mental image that each person will produce, summarizes the designer, for whom ergonomics or the notion of comfort question not only the body but the mind. As the patient enters the service, she chooses her preferred sky, but she will not be able to change it. This window to the future will be installed in 15 rooms from September 2012.

STADLER: the secret of objects

After graduating from the European Institute of Design (IED) in Milan, Robert Stadler writes his dissertation on a Mac SE and discovers Photoshop in 1988 at ENSCI, where his very first creation is a shelf in the form of a double helix in wood and aluminum, made without a mold. Ironically, this piece of furniture, which wins first prize at the international Designer’s Saturday competition, becomes the typical example of a CAD exercise for future students. If most of the designer’s projects are now modeled on computer through a dialogue with his assistant Jean-Charles Amey, Stadler easily breaks away for his series of sofas Pools & pouf and other Tephra Formations, preferring to use modeling clay instead of Rhino 3D design.

His relationship to digital technology and his view of information society operate on another level. His first electronic piece +33 6, made in 2004, is a mirror capable of receiving SMS through a special telephone number. It amused me to associate a modem to this mute everyday object, he says, especially as the message is only displayed once, when you wave your hand in front of the glass to activate the motion sensor, then it’s erased. This installation takes on its full meaning by rejecting all the possibilities offered by technology. Whereas by facilitating mobility, ubiquity, storage capacity or a relentless flow of exponential information, new media trivialize the moment you receive a message and in some ways diminish its value, +33 6 recreates, in the here and now, intimacy and ceremony.

For Stadler, electronics inject the object with a second level of interpretation. With Carole (2007), another mirror that is classic in appearance but just as enigmatic, he invites the person to ask a question. The words of the oracle, following the same principle, are delivered through the random display of one of the 400 aphorisms stored inside the installation. The concept may be simple, but it works its charm every time. I’m interested in using technology for the intimate and poetic dimension that it lends to objects, says the designer, who questions their status, subjected to the test of time.

What is the value of a clock, in the age of mobile phones and tablets? Are electronic paintings—24 H Tanya, Linda or Paulista—whose image is deformed over time, nothing more than clocks? Therein resides all the ambiguity of the object whose very function alters its image. And what if it were a customized piece for mobile device, of which only you knew the secret? The designer never ceases to question our habits, revealing with a healthy dose of humor and a certain accuracy the developments and dysfunctions of a society driven by communication. When everyone seems to agree that public telephone booths are now obsolete, Stadler’s Pentaphone (2006) suggests an elegantly humorous response to the question of suspended isolation!

And when he confronts us with a marble-framed swing mirror in the shape of an exclamation mark (Informed), it’s to remind us that, in the form of a typographic symbol—the interjection—in an increasingly standardized world, the first commandement is assertiveness. With an installation containing no electronics, if not code etched into the wood that is superposed on the tree’s growth rings, Aztec Stool was conceived with the idea of using the information contained in the object to define its form. In other words, form follows information, an exercise that refers back to the affirmation of McLuhan: The medium is the message. To ponder!

Véronique Godé

Robert Stadler >
Mathieu Lehanneur >
Carpenters Workshop Gallery >
Designer’s Saturday >




Green fingers: digital and botanical art (2/2)

Artistic practices involving video, robotics and biotechnology have completely

Artificial Imagination: Is it just an illusion? (2/2)

As present time felt obsolete compared to the new realm of AGI everywh

Artificial Imagination: Is it just an illusion? (1/2)

As present time felt obsolete compared to the new realm of AGI everywhere