Finding Studio Monsieur requires a taste for adventure. The studio of Manon Leblanc and Romain Diroux — two designers who recently graduated from the École Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg — is nestled between two levels of an old parking lot in Montreuil, not far from Paris. Even when the route has been clearly indicated to you, it is easy to lose yourself in this maze of poorly lit staircases and concrete ramps. Finally, between two cars: you find a door that leads into a room fit with a long workbench, several machines and the warmth of human heat. You have arrived at Studio Monsieur.
On a table, a recently finished project has been unveiled: a collection of light cones in an array of vibrant colours that radiate the workspace. The Pigment lamps.
These lamps, commissioned by the Parisian gallery Artisan Social Designer, are at first material before they are form or function. "In this experimental project, we tried to make our own medium" explain the young designers. But what precisely is this unfamiliar raw material? Is it ceramic, a kind of foam, or even pre-tinted plaster? Difficult to say: these objects — at once furry and luminous — put one's visual, tactile, or haptic bearings to the test. As Ezio Manzini, undisputed specialist on design suggests, "it is possible to say what new generation objects appear to be made from but not what they are actually made from." Fortunately, the title of these objects demystifies their composition. Pigment refers here to the object, its substance and to its luminosity.
"The idea with these lamps was to focus above all on colour. We chose to work with simple forms in order to accentuate the impact of colour tonality. As soon as you elaborate the design, the form becomes too prominent and the colour incidental."
In order to reverse this classical hierarchy between form and colour, it was necessary for Manon Leblanc and Romain Diroux to dirty their hands and find a new method, a magical formula. The two designers frenetically pounded colour in the search of the object, like those who crush grapes hoping to create a new and distinctive vintage.
"This way of working arises from the material itself, rather than being imposed onto it: an almost floral or efflorescent conception where beauty arises through a symbiosis of form and content, that ends divisions." In this quote, French philosopher François Dagognet celebrates the particular "approach, choice of ingredients, neo-textures, arrangements or mixtures" within the birth of this kind of project. At Studio Monsieur, this material celebration is reminiscent of the Hindi Holi festival.
Studio Monsieur clearly takes part in the wave-particle debate. Their work seems to suggest that because light can be moulded, it is thus corpuscular. The designers become alchemists, carefully weighing and mixing different powders. But to generate a form from pure pigment — following the example of the potter who turns clay — is far from child's play. Pigment cannot be as easily tamed as one might think. They admit: "This is a very special material, it cannot be poured or moulded. We explored a variety of approaches used for working different mediums from chalk to cosmetics. We tried several techniques: metallic structures, mixtures of plastic and plaster, etc. We even went as far as trying the binder used by Yves Klein. But the lamps shattered systematically."
Better results were achieved when employing techniques used for making pastel, but an ingredient was still missing in order to make the material malleable. Thanks to the salutary powers of transdisciplinarity, the solution was finally found in an entirely different domain: textiles. It is no coincidence that these designers share their studio space with a graphic designer, a set designer and a costumer designer. The final makeup of this lamp would be fabric and pigment. The designers specify their method: "Two layers of cotton for three layers of pigment".
In 1968, Jean Baudrillard wrote: "Clothing, cars, showers, household appliances, plastic surfaces — nowhere here, it seems, is the "honest" colour that painting once liberated as a living force now to be found. Instead we encounter only the pastels, which aspire to be living colours but are in fact merely signs for them, complete with a dash of moralism." While this witty remark is rather seductive, it is not to be taken too seriously as it characterises pastel with foreign and unfitting attributes. The French philosopher is surely referring to the practice of amateur artists who work at the Place du Tertre in Montmartre, Paris while deliberately evading consideration of Odilon Redon's sketches. Looking at the pastels at Studio Monsieur, Baudrillard's views prove insignificant and the "reign of pastel" takes on a very different meaning. In art or in design, this material is capable of true honesty.
Hung in group, Manon Leblanc and Romains Diroux' Pigment lamps send complex and colourful messages and simultaneous contrasting effects that would even impress Michel-Eugène Chevreul. But the alchemy is not yet finished: one by one, these cones will take it upon themselves to give life and warmth to the dullness of our energy-efficient light bulbs. Those who have visited the crypt of the convent of Sainte Marie de La Tourette will be familiar with Le Corbusier's famous "light canons" and the mesmerising encounter between light and colour in this work. For those unfamiliar with this spectacular space, Studio Monsieur have delivered an admirable domestic alternative. Tony Côme