issue #34: (de)construction
This conversation between Marco Magalini, Caleido’s Editor-in-chief, and the French-Austrian duo, Célia Picard & Hannes Schreckensberger, talks about the works of these two designers that are based on the investigation of our material world, the promises of modernity, and collective mythologies, and form a link between issues of architecture and those of contemporary art. Marco Magalini met them during Vienna Design Week as they presented their installation GRANDE PAILLE. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here
1. Can you each share a bit about your background and what inspired you to become designers?
We both studied architecture. Each in a different city and at a different university. Hannes studied in Vienna and Paris and was strongly influenced by the long tradition of architecture and design in Vienna. Célia studied architecture in Montpellier, in the south of France, and in Rotterdam. These different cultural backgrounds influenced us a lot. Together we decided not to do architecture but to focus on design. There are many parallels between the disciplines, but the scale of the object seemed ideal for us to work experimentally and create objects on our own.
2. What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on together, and what made it special?
“Forces” is definitely our project of the moment, which we love to put all our energy into. Three years ago we started designing large-scale tapestries with hand-felted sheep’s wool. Since then, new tapestries have been created in different contexts. What we find exciting about this project is that we source raw wool directly from sheep farmers and put them through a lengthy manual process of cleaning, washing, and carding the raw wool itself. This first stage of production leads us to great encounters with different people. For example, in Greece, on the island of Sifnos, we met a sheep farmer who showed us remote farming areas of the island. But we also discovered in our hometown of Montpellier, France, that there is a flock of sheep mowing a nature park. The personal exchange with the shepherd about sheep and ecology was extremely inspiring for us.
3. What are some key principles or philosophies that guide your design work?
In our design practice, at the beginning of a project we always examine the cultural, historical and material context in which the project is located. This leads us to mostly ignored aspects of a material, to local stories or collective mythologies. These circumstances then guide the development process of the project. We also love to realize projects ourselves. We learn a lot about a material and a production technology by this approach. It allows us also to make changes at short notice in the development process if necessary. We usually have a fixed idea of a result but leave room for the unexpected until the end.
4. Regarding the project you’ve developed for the @ViennaDesignWeek, can you describe your creative process, from concept to completion?
The “Grande Paille” project was created in a very intensive collaboration with the young hat maker, Eva Siebert @biester_hutmode. She runs the handcraft workshop Biester in the second district of Vienna. We had a relatively short period of time to realize this Passionswege project for this year’s @ViennaDesignWeek. In this format, designers are brought together with Viennese craft businesses to develop a non-commercial project using their craft techniques and there materials. At the beginning we observed all facets of the craft technique of a hat maker in order to understand it and find a starting point for a project. We started to examine all the materials used by Eva Siebert @biester_hutmode. In addition to fine felt made from rabbit wool, various fabrics, wicker work and artificial fur, she also uses straw braids to create huts. This material fascinated us from the start. At first glance it is a very unspectacular material. But upon closer inspection, you discover that these braids are elaborately made from natural fibers and that they could theoretically be infinitely long. It is a material from which traditional huts are usually made to protect from the sun’s rays. This material has a very Mediterranean character and is actually not 100% Viennese. We found this ambiguity stimulating. We wanted to use these very thin straw braids to create something large, light, mobile and nomadic, just like a hat. Another idea was that we should design an object that at first glance is not three-dimensional in order to create a contrast to volume-shaped huts. However, we believe it is important not to make the object appear flat. This is how we developed and introduced the design element of the loops. Furthermore, in collaboration with Eva Siebert @biester_hutmode, we have developed a new rhythm for bringing the straw borders together in order to give the surface a certain relief. When we decided to create large wall hangings, it quickly became clear that it would be necessary for us to learn the technique of sewing the straw borders together in order to realize the amount of work in the short of time we had available. We three worked for three days to dye the straw braids by hand and to sew them with a 100-year-old special sewing machine and two conventional sewing machines. It was exhausting, but above all a very nice collaboration.
5. How do you stay updated with the latest design trends and technologies?
Our work practice is driven by a constant search for new materials that we have never worked with before. They are mostly traditional materials and we look at them with an unclouded eye. But most of the materials and craft techniques come to us by chance. We do a lot of artist-in-residencies around in Europe and also further to start new projects. It is a perfect way to stay updated and open for new ideas.
6. Are there any specific artists or designers who have influenced your work? We’ll start following them on Instagram soon.
We’re not really influenced by any particular designer or artist. Of course there are old masters of design, especially the Italian ones, who influence us. It is more about their attitude to create objets and not necessarily a formal question that interests us. We like to be influenced unconsciously. We visit contemporary art exhibitions but also ethnographic and folk muses. Vernacular objects but also objects from the Wiener Werkstätte @diewienerwerkstatte are sources for us. These are unlikely to be found on Instagram.
7. Are there any materials or techniques that you particularly enjoy working with in your projects?
For us, sheep’s wool is a very special material. It is a very pleasant material to work with. The material allows us to produce hand-felted tapestries without great technical effort and are not tied to a limited shape of a loom. The fact that sheep’s wool in Europe is mainly an unused waste product of milk and meat production also motivates us to work with this great material, which has enormous potential. In future we would like to work more with sheep wool from different sheep breeds from all over Europe. Each region has its own breeds of sheep, which are adapted to the local climate and landscape.
8. On a personal note, what do you enjoy doing in your free time when you’re not working on projects?
It is difficult for us to separate work and leisure time. A lot of what we do is somehow always connected to our practice. However, it is very balanced. We’re not an isolated case, are we?
9. Do you have a favorite city or place that you find particularly inspiring for your work?
In spring 2022 we were in Athens for three months for an artist-in-residency. It is an exciting city with a dynamic and young art scene. It was an extremely stimulating context to develop our project “Under The Seven Planets Parade”. But beside cities we also love working in rural areas far away from metropolises. It’s more the peripheral areas that interest us. In these you can discover endless inspiring and unexpected things.
10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? what is the memory attached to it? would you send us a photo taken by you?
We collect many different types of objects that we usually find at flea markets. We use them and give them a new life. For example, we are using a water carafe from the traditional Austrian ceramics manufacturer Gmundner Keramik @gmundner.keramik. It is a manufacture with a long history and an iconic motif of green lines that are applied by hand. Still today you can find these ceramics in many households in rural areas in Austria. This minimal water carafe, which was designed by an anonymous designer, has something very modern and at the same time almost kitschy about it. This formal ambiguity we find very interesting.
All images are taken from the interviewee’s Instagram account, and are an integral part of the interview’s editorial storytelling. See the interviewee’s Instagram account for full credits.