You’d be hard-pressed these days to find a design object that isn’t branded with its proof of authorship. A quick inspection of a modest New York apartment reveals Jasper Morrison’s name embedded in the wooden handle of a kitchen spoon, Industrial Facility’s stamped on the underside of an alarm clock, and Jonas Damon’s circling the base of a flashlight. For manufacturers, it’s a selling point; for designers, it’s a mark of prestige. But ask Laurent Milon, who at the age of 29 is just beginning to make a name for himself, and he’d rather go the Muji route. “Famous Mingei artists thought it was better if they didn’t sign their craft, because if they did so, it would be just another artistic object,” says the Paris-based, Japan-obsessed designer, whose ENSCI diploma project focused on using natural processes to create shapes that exist beyond the means of industrial production. “When you use natural processes, you can generate shapes that don’t have the mark of your intervention. I’m just the person who gathered all of the conditions necessary to make a shape with a certain function.”
Of course, when he began the project, his motivations were a bit less refined. “When you graduate you have some money, but not much,” he admits. “I wondered what I could do with natural processes, using materials like wax and water, that wouldn’t be too expensive.” He began building machines using found objects — as small as a hard-drive magnet and as big as a pallet jack — which he then used to create a collection that includes an umbrella made in a turbo-speed whirlpool and rings whose silver spikes are galvanized after being formed, Etch-a-Sketch–style, by way of magnets and iron powder.
Milon, who studied economics and architecture before gaining acceptance to Paris’s prestigious industrial design school, would theoretically prefer to keep his anonymity. But ultimately the choice may not be his to make: After high-profile internships with Galerie Kreo and the Japanese design firm Draft, he was picked this summer by French designer François Azambourg to be part of a team that conceived and built the exhibition “Cellular Design,” on view now at Paris’s Le Laboratoire. Milon has snagged an ongoing part-time gig there, where he’s encouraged to use science to generate art and design, and at the same time he’s setting up his own studio. Called WonderWild, it will focus on developing further the themes he explored in his thesis. “I’m working on a project that will send something into space via a balloon,” he explains. “While in space, it will create a shape, and when the object comes back to earth I can say it was created in the stratosphere. It’s somewhere between art and industrial design.”
What has been the biggest influence on your work? “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty, a book by Sôetsu Yanagi. It teaches that an artist must erase any sign of his own intervention in order for the idea of beauty to appear. It’s the Mingei theory. Objects born from the Mingei point of view are natural and have a shape that you’re not quite sure how it was made. A Mingei bowl is different from a normal bowl because it’s not a perfect circle. What seduced me in this idea is that you could create objects that would be appreciated more because of their shape than because of who made them.”
Style movement you most identify with: “A mix of Surrealism and Mingei.”
First thing you ever made: “When I was a child, I liked to build paper planes full of gadgets, such as parachutes, suspensions, emergency hooks and hidden giant wings.”
Album most played while you work: “Donuts, by J-Dilla.”
Last thing you bought on eBay: “Funk vinyls.”
Favorite shop: “I’m a good customer on Conrad.fr, mainly because they sell a lot of useful stuff for experimenting.”
Describe your process:
“At the beginning, as much as I can, I like to work without a ruler. I rely on my eyes to create dimensions or proportions. Then there’s a necessary step where I use computers, but it’s just a transitional thing. Natural processes are so wild that you have to constrain that wildness with accuracy at the beginning.”
What a stranger who saw your work for the first time would say: “’Wow! Did you make this?’ And I’d say, ‘Not really.’”
As the youngest child of a Parisian architect — with three older brothers working in the same field — Victoria Wilmotte had one thing going for her when she started studying furniture design at London's RCA four years ago. But she also had a few handicaps: she was only 20 years old, she had just been rejected from Paris's ENSCI school, and her professor at RCA, Jurgen Bey, couldn't comprehend her strange working methods. Obsessed with materials and surfaces, she wanted to spend all her time in the workshop, skipping the thinking and brainstorming part and going directly to prototyping. "Jurgen Bey was really into concepts," says Wilmotte, now 24. "He was more about a table telling stories, but I only wanted to talk technically. He basically said, 'I don’t understand you. But continue.'"
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