A former ENSCI student, designer Bazil de Pourtalès now works as a freelance, after having forged his skills in an agency on consulting and innovation missions for companies. What drives him? Formalize projects where design is a strategic vector. He looks back on this literally extraordinary experience of confinement linked to the health crisis, the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our interactions, our consumption. And more broadly, our way of inhabiting the world.
“All confined! Who would’ve believed that ? It’s a shock, an amazement, something that we had only imagined until then. But what about when the imagination becomes reality?
A virus passes from animal to human in a wildlife market in China and we find ourselves very quickly confined due to a global pandemic. Few countries are the exception, billions of people in both hemispheres have seen their lives transformed in a matter of days. This unexpected situation reflects the complex reality of our world, the links that exist between everyone, everything.
For the first time in a very long time, we are aware that we all share the same world. What is usually diluted in the seething flow of our modes of existence is manifestly revealed and what happens on the other side of the earth has an immediate effect on all that is happening there. The will to explain its origin highlights a cause and effect relationship, which is the rule and from which nothing seems to be an exception.
The crisis is global. We had to face this new virus by transforming the way we live and work, by taking unprecedented and often heavy precautions when we were in the field and by confining ourselves to our homes the rest of the time. Our lives, our relationship to the outside world, to others, to what was most trivial, has been transformed. From our interiors we had to reinvent our lives, importing from the outside what constituted our daily life. The reduced perimeter of our confinement has become the scene of our ways of living.
This new context has changed our relationship to what constitutes our environment, by disrupting uses, revising priorities and re-qualifying what is important for everyone. This physical distancing has forced us to step back, both literally and figuratively, on the necessity, on what we produce and on the way in which we inhabit.
We can ask ourselves the question of knowing from what necessity are produced the objects with which we surround ourselves. From the manual tool to the symbolic object in the performance of a rite, they are the consequence of our relationship to the world, a complex alchemy between needs and an interpretation of our reality. If there is one point in common with human productions, it lies in the fact that Man himself has the capacity to deposit or reveal a meaning in it. It is characteristic of the object produced by man to reveal itself only through the gift of human consciousness. Like a mirror, it sends us back to what makes our humanity.
Our relationship to the world goes through both the mind and the heart, through reason and through emotion. We experience our reality through our senses and interpret our perceptions in the light of our experience, our memory. This experiential dimension makes the object present to our body, our intelligence and our emotions. The experience of the world culminates in feeling without being able to do without cognition, it is situated at the interference of the two.
Creation stands at this interference.
More broadly, it is at the crossroads of disciplines, revealing complementarities in what does not seem without adherence. It is the art of making things work together that at first glance do not seem intended to be. Since our confinements, the question of necessity, at the origin of creation, has imposed itself on us.
The sudden evolution of the context has forced us to reinvent a world for ourselves by making it in line with our needs. The brutal and almost universal transformation has shown the continuous adaptation that we have to live with.
This is what we have done, by supporting caregivers, by rehabilitating our homes for the use of confinement, by inventing and manufacturing masks, by recreating ourselves a semblance of nature, by redeveloping a play space for our children or a office to allow us to continue working, by surrounding ourselves with what has been vital for us to live in confinement …
Faced with the situation, we used our resources to forge links, between things, between people, between inside and outside.
The question of the link appears essential, because it is both process and finality. Fleeting in a changing and evolving world, which to be maintained will require to be woven again, each time it is no longer evident. To maintain the link is to keep it present in our consciousness by giving it a reality in our daily actions. Now is not this what the action of “doing” translates? The need, is it not a permanent need to weave links between things to remind us of what is possible in our quest to explore and explain our reality?
What we produce
Like a fabric whose warp and weft cannot do without each other, substance and form are inextricably linked. By assuming this conception, we can ask ourselves to what extent there is a symmetry within the work that constitutes content and form. Depending on the point of view, there is either the path of the creator who, according to an intention, brings out the form, or the reverse path of the one who seizes it and who through the form accesses the background that establishes it. The form exists in the totality because it exists both by the action of the creator and in the eyes of the one who uses it.
To experience the scope of what we produce is like gazing at a body of water. By bending over it, our eye can either land on its surface or pass through it and see what it contains. It is in this sense that the power of evocation of forms seems crucial. Because the form both polarizes and orders the background and is the key to access it.
This is how the form can either mislead or enlighten.
It has the power to express links, forces in presence. Depending on the clarity of these links between content and form, it can be revealing by giving people the means to choose and to act, like the music of a film whose notes reflect the state of spirit of a character by making the viewer feel it.
There is therefore a reflexive relationship between our products and ourselves. The objects that we produce act towards us in the same way as we act towards them. Forms are transformed into transformative experiences that allow us to access common denominators. They take hold of a matrix dimension that allows us to return to the source of what makes our humanity.
The world in which we live is not it thus in our image? Made of dualities between what it is, what we would like it to be, between what we think we know and what we do not know. Projects provide direction for the future by using the past as a step back and the present as a push. Ultimately, uncertainty remains the rule. The feeling of uncertainty is reinforced in the face of the complexity of the world, the feeling of not being able to embrace its whole and to access a truth that would prevail.
Limited by our perception, the cause and effect relationship of our actions is increasingly diluted. Unearthing and remembering what binds us together seems more necessary than ever. The current crisis reminds us of the bonds that bring us together, but what about the rest of the time with what we make. What about when we switch smartphones to the latest model and take a selfie with it, as people farther on the planet are burning the plastic components of our phones in outdoor landfills. We do live on the same planet, almost within the same organism… and yet. Proximity is no longer a matter of physical distance, but of more induced effects. Where things are made, it is also the place where humanity is made. And that is why quality and conscience must be the watchwords.
How we live
Living implies an interaction with the environment that we have designated as the place of life. We make choices and implement actions to transform it and make it match our needs. The idea of transformation is fundamental, because it is both the raison d’être of the habitat and its mode of operation, a constant evolution which in theory guarantees it to remain in accordance with the needs of those who live there. It seems that talking about design is talking about this process of transformation. Containment confronted us with our basic needs by confronting us with what we lacked.
These needs have often turned out to be trivial from a “world before” point of view, taken for granted or accessible. We have rediscovered their importance, that our life depends on it and that their lack cannot be filled by any artifice. Their name is: freedom, security, human links, silence, space, access to nature …
Ideals that we tend to divert and squander in acts of consumption rather than appreciating them for their vitality and access to their greatness. It seems crucial to go beyond the conception of the individual as a simple customer, consumer or user, but to introduce the idea of citizenship to what we produce, across its entire value chain. By doing a lot with a little, we have proven that we know how to reinvent ourselves.
Rather than satisfying artificially instilled desires we must create for real and experienced needs. In this new context Mies van der Rohe’s adage, “Less is more” sounds loudly and reminds us to prioritize quality over quantity.
We experienced the same disaster but the needs expressed turned out to be singular, due to the singularity of individual contexts. It is by proposing projects that carry within them the path of thought that gave rise to them that will allow everyone to seize their scope. By strengthening the capacity for judgment, they would thus be honest projects. By turning into experiences, design productions take advantage of the reflective capacity of forms to facilitate an active contribution and get out of a passive posture. Design productions would be more in line with a logic of transformation within which we can “forge links” rather than being “objects to take away”. By establishing an active disposition, the design is accomplished in a process in which the result of what is produced belongs a little more to those who are affected by the project, because the project carries with it a part of ourselves, an understanding new, special care.
This is how the idea of quality can find meaning in each of us and allow us to live more united in a world such as we will have done. ”