Last Thursday, me and Lauren took the train to Saint-Etienne for the Internationale Biennale Design, a giant exhibition of modern, functional, and sustainable design. I was expecting it to be a small exhibit in the modern art museum, but it was a sprawling, three buildings full, showing of some of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Earlier this year, I saw the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit at the MOMA in New York, sort of a futuristic look at the direction of design. This was like that on adrenaline pills.
The items on display ranged from practical to ridiculous, with plenty of horror and whimsy in between. The designs came from all over the world, with a lot representing Europe. I enjoyed all of the anthropomorphic objects, robot vases, and surreal imagery. The above pig was part of the Flight Number 10 section, which looked at changes in everyday life. I am happy that everyday life seems to be getting more like my imagination.
One of the odder ideas was a cloning area, where it showed how you could “clone” your posture to build a chair, your stomach to make a pillow, your profile to make a mirror, etc. The most disturbing were the eye lamps that could be made to resemble the exact colors of your eyes. I guess customizing everything for our genetic makeup is getting more popular, but I don’t know how I’d feel about looking at giant versions of my eyes all the time.
Other designs were more functional. I guess it’s hard to mess up a chair, although someone made some lumpy ones out of concrete that were definitely not comfortable. Along with all the designs that are still in development, were objects that existed in the prototype phase. This area was called “Demain, C’est Aujourd’hui” (Tomorrow, It’s Today) and included a hack for your TV to make any channel 3-D, some pretty cool computers, and a few cars that looked like they drove out (flew?) of Bladerunner.
But it wasn’t all about living. There were also tombstones with water that reflected the viewer onto the grave and a whole cabinet of urns. The above were the most disturbing with their gas mask-like faces which don’t suggest much peace in death. Most of the other urns were just metallic versions of what we already have, but these took it to some alternative universe where there has been a chemical outbreak and we have to live wearing gas masks. Maybe then no one would recognize our faces, so urns like these would be the best way to honor us. I’m rambling…maybe this should be my next novel or at least a short story? Don’t steal my gas mask future idea!
Lauren’s favorite part of the Biennale was this rainbow of felt shoes, each of which was different from the others. I especially liked a couple of the gray ones that had felt feathers covering them. Like the shoes, everyone at the Biennale was incredibly unique from everything else, so it’s hard to sum it all up with one theme. Maybe, to use a current buzz word, change was the theme. While everything was obviously borrowing from the past, there seemed to be an effort to change the way we approach our lives, the environment, and the materials we surround ourselves with.
There was a small building in the courtyard that was called “Project Creep” and included this skull, as well as some cool interactive features. One was a Nintendo game that called “Recycling” that had six attached controllers which could all contribute to making techno music. Nothing actually showed up on the television screen, but I thought it looked way more fun than playing Guitar Hero or something like that. Make your own music!
Bâtiment 335 was almost entirely devoted to L’Appartement Géant (The Giant Apartment), which was an opportunity to “experience the future lifestyle.” The future seems alternately chill and violent, with the latter expressed above in the massacre of the poor table, possibly by the chair. I would move into L’Appartement Géant today if I could, but I guess it’s a long way from Saint-Etienne and it seemed to be built for having at least 10 roommates.
Like all good apartments of the future, from the Jetsons to Epcot, there has to be at least one robot. This apartment’s robot traveled along a pink line that wove around the building and anyone who got in its way was reprimanded by a stern French woman’s voice. I think I’ve heard that same voice when trying to open a bank account or paying for a 1.50€ coffee with a 20€ bill.
The most chill area was definitely the pit of pillows made from sweaters where you could listen to music on giant headphones. It looked like most of the art students who had to come to the Biennale had collapsed, probably from an overdose of the terrifying future.
The third building was devoted to ecological design, featuring the appropriately named City Eco Lab. It seemed to vary between things that existed and worked, to things that could never, ever be a part of our modern society. Or maybe I just have doubts about a future where a bicycle can be used as a firetruck:
I love the idea of using bicycles for things like delivering mail, like they do in France, or for primary transportation in the center of town. But alas, I don’t think the bicycle will every be able to make a case against the firetruck. However, I would like to start using elephants for fighting fires and I think I should propose that for the next Biennale.
After 4 hours of having our minds blown by the future, we took a break at La Cantine Moins de 80 KM de City Eco Lab. All of the food and drink was from the area and they only used reusable glasses and plates. I got an apple juice and Lauren got a beer. Both were quite good.
One of my favorite things already exists and is for sale: the Nabztag! It’s a robotic rabbit that connects to your wifi and can read things out loud to you from the internet. It can also create a surreal synthetic opera with 100 of its friends. So if anyone is looking for a Christmas present for me that could potentially be a robot friend while it slowly takes over my life…Nabztag is around. Apparently there is an exhibit of Nabztags dressed in outfits in Paris right now, so I might need to check that out.
So there you have a sampling of the Biennale. Many more pictures are on my flickr. We didn’t have time to see the modern art museum, so I might have to go to Saint-Etienne again. Even if the city is mostly industrial and not exactly the stereotype of French architectural beauty, it definitely has one of the greatest art scenes outside of Paris.
Coming soon: adventures in Mirmande and Avignon!