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Biennial of Saint-Etienne: questions about design

According to Olivier Peyricot, this edition of the Biennale de Design presents a “modest design, no grand gestures”, and gives leads, tools, to fuel the debate on the major current issues: the environment, production, mobility and the way of living. By taking the theme “Bifurcation(s)”, the event draws up a clear observation – we are at a turning point where it is urgent to act – and positions designers as essential players in the changes at work. Note, for the first time, the Biennale will last 4 months, until July 31.

“Here you will not find solutions, but something to question and discuss”: this is essentially the credo of Olivier Peyricot, director of the Research department of the Cité du design, when he presents this edition of the International Biennial. of design in Saint-Etienne.
And that’s an understatement: throughout the course of the exhibitions offered at the Cité du design until July 31, the themes compete with questions, as long as the visitor takes the time to immerse himself in the many explanations listed on cartels.
Biomimicry, new mobilities, radioscopy of our domestic lives, modes of production… all the exhibitions express an experience or a need for “bifurcation(s)” whether it is “submitted or chosen” as expressed by Thierry Mandon, director general of the Cité du design.
An affirmation of the event as a research laboratory, reinforced by the numerous work in progress and conferences that will take place throughout these four months on the various sites. Indeed, if we have known in the last decade biennials led by inspiring curators, with a radical or almost philosophical artistic line – we remember for example the edition around “Beauty” led by Benjamin Loyalty in 2015 –, for two or three editions, the Biennale has fed more societal reflections – like the very dense “Working promises” edition in 2017. The international event thus affirms a strong positioning of design at the heart of the human sciences, as a tool for exploration and experimentation to support change.
Thus, if the exhibitions include on the whole a great presentation of product design, they also open up the role of the designer as designer of processes, of services, in response to uses, necessary developments, behaviors, and economic questions. Design is strategic, artistic, and political, in the sense of “serving the city”.

Biennale of Saint-Etienne ''Singular Plurielles'' ©Seghir Zouaoui

Stories and research at the Cité du design

Among the exhibitions that support this positioning, we can cite the fascinating exhibition “Autofiction, a biography of the automobile”, Olivier Peyricault and Anne Chaniolleau approach automobile design from a primarily anthropological point of view, by questioning the imaginaries generated and ownership codes. The proposed story does not forget the eternal question of resources and materials, the design research of this “technological phoenix which never ceases to be reborn” , with its hopes and trial and error, particularly around the failure of the car called “autonomous”.
Another sign of the times, it is an entire continent – and no longer a city or a country, as was the case with Detroit for the 2017 edition or China in 2019 – which is in the spotlight, through the Franck Houndégla’s “Singulier plurielles” exhibition. Between graphic design, macro-systems and micro-systems, the exhibition explores other ways of designing, producing and living. “These are projects born of various designers, but who in their approach share the modalities of design” underlines the curator. Designers, makers, architects, engineers, invent, transpose processes, divert objects, services for the collective. This ranges from the creator of special effects who transposes his skills for the production of prostheses, the association of a jewel connected to a data platform for the implementation of an e-health device, the construction of non-standard automobile thus responding to a plurality of uses (textile manufacturing, agriculture, hotels, etc.), the use of local materials for architecture, up to the search for “bricks without waste”…
Finally, among the ten exhibitions presented on the site of the Cité, we will also retain the note of freshness, of optimism, brought by “The World if not nothing”: a commission led by Benjamin Graindorge, designer and teacher at the ENSADSE and researcher Sophie Pène at the Learning Planet Institute, which starts from the postulate of the richness of the territories of creation of young people. The bet is made to explore over ten years the projects of diplomas of students of a network of establishments, and to detect there the seeds of a “New Bauhaus”, around the “living”. According to Sophie Pène, this is “showing the power of creation in moments of transition. We easily talk about tech innovations, but few about habits, behaviors, culture, creation. The second idea is to show that the creativity of youth draws the transitions, is necessary, that the rapprochement between the sciences and the arts, and the porous borders that can be put in place are really the conditions for the emergence of projects powerful. » The exhibition thus includes in the concept of “school of creation” the scientific laboratories, the makers labs, the third places, the schools of art of design, of art. Through very diverse projects – of objects music for autism at a pirate distillery!– it is above all a question of showing the fertility of the territories of exploration, their resonances, and above all an energy, a desire, and a power to act.

Events in town and on the outskirts

On the Firminy site, the Saint-Pierre church hosts an exploration by Döppel Studio around Le Corbusier’s cabanon: around 6 prototypes, scattered around the place, the designer duo imagine micro-architectures to be placed in a field, to relax, rest, share moments of break in a new use of fallow plots with easily movable constructions and exploiting another relationship with the landscape.
In the heart of the city, the museum of art and industry offers a skilful presentation of contemporary works by artists in residence at the Creux de l’enfer. We will remember, for example, the installation in the middle of the weapons of Vivien Roubaud’s work, which freezes explosions in glass, like a timeless freeze frame.
Finally, among the many other events, the Fil Utile collective, made up of 17 members, including textile designer Jeanne Goutelle, is offering “Relier-délier” at the former School of Fine Arts. This exhibition features installations by creators challenged to integrate a new material into their know-how. Astonishing installations respond to each other, from the delicate combination of ribbon and porcelain to hand-made “wool graphics”, giving under this soft and luminous aspect, a rather chilling vision of the textile industry.
Encompassing more than 200 diversified events around 7 major exhibitions, the Design Biennale seeks to reach all audiences. Of course, we would dream of having a major retrospective exhibited – like for example the didactic exhibition in 2020 in Lille Capitale du design “Designers of design” – but at the end of the exhibitions, there remains such an impression of effervescence of research, creative bubbling, avenues explored, that we foresee an inventive future, with solutions at hand. And without drawing up a very clear inventory, we feel how much the design sector has a decisive role to play in the transformation of our world. As long as we recognize him and give him the means to help us take the right turn.
Nathalie Degardin

The Saint-Etienne Design Biennale in a few figures

> 4 months of opening
> 48 facilities
> 7 exhibitions on the Cité du design site
> More than 235 designers represented
> 222 events in the Saint-Etienne metropolis
> 24 symposiums and conferences