Curious about everything, the creator constantly explores new territories. For Mathieu Lehanneur, design is above all synonymous with progress and well-being. Interview by L'Express Styles.
Air, water, sound and light are his favorite materials. Mathieu Lehanneur, 37, is one of the few French designers of his generation to put his talent at the service of just about everything. Its clients include hospitals such as the Atomic Energy Commission, vaccine manufacturers, JCDecaux and Issey Miyake fragrances. He has just set up, in Paris, the concert hall Electric, in the Parc des Expositions (Porte de Versailles), and board, among dozens of other projects, on a new version of its ecological air filter Andrea. Paola Antonelli, curator of the MoMA design department, who flashed in 2001 on her very first "therapeutic objects" rethinking our relationship to drugs - to the point of integrating them into the museum's collections - sees in him "a champion of the intellectual agility of the current design ".
The son of a bike wheel designer, trained at Ensci, this handsome kid likes nothing more than clearing, innovating and setting up new behaviors. With one goal: to help you breathe better, sleep better, love better, in short, live better. The Grand-Hornu, in Belgium, is currently deploying its universe, at the edge of the fantastic, in a first monographic exhibition, called Choses (1). One finds there his interest for the interactions between the man and his direct environment and his constant desire to care for the others. The opportunity to make an appointment with Dr. Lehanneur.
You are one of the few current designers who do not confine their field of action to furniture.
Is it a difficult posture to hold?
Less and less. We are at a pivotal moment when design begins to interest sponsors from all walks of life. This is a great opening, as long as the designers agree to play the game and explore these new territories. I am extremely optimistic. Today, I work with my team on about forty different projects. My clients are as much a country priest who wanted to rethink his church as a big computer, a liner owner, a vaccine producer ... These meetings are done in a very natural way. The world is ripe for that. We need coffee tables, but not only.
What do all these people expect of you?
Mathieu Lehanneur: They all have one thing in common: they want change, not adding one more product in their catalog, but in a different way. There are always very important issues behind their request. I try to solve their problem, to understand their need. I like the urgency, the relationship, the empathy.
And how do you proceed then, how is your diagnosis made?
Mathieu Lehanneur:A client is a bit like a patient. It's a relationship I believe in. My interlocutor must honestly describe his symptoms. I often tell her, "We'll see what we're going to do, but maybe that's not what you've imagined." I never read the briefs given to me, because it imprisons. I prefer to leave a blank sheet.
Do you still feel a bit alone in this process?
Mathieu Lehanneur:Not many of us work like that, but I feel it is good for the students. I do not become a model to follow, but I show that there are other ways forward. The young people who come to my agency are all curious to do something else. If I had to give them only one piece of advice, it would be to close the design journals and read the newspaper. Heaps of fields are conducive to creation and no boundaries are established. I try to keep a relative distance from the design, because I know it pollutes me. I do not go to the Salons, I buy a lot of books. Recently, I read a book on haunted houses in the United States, another about artists from the 1970s and 1980s who lived mystical experiences with the lights. I try to harvest the maximum of raw material.
Even if your creations are heterogeneous, all express a common style, on the border of science fiction. Is it a source of inspiration?
Mathieu Lehanneur:I like to work the limit between the magic and the functional. The idea of creating new things interests me, but these must appear both unusual and familiar. Take Time! that I created for Lexon, for example, is not strictly speaking a bracelet. It is rather an object to handle, with reference to all those little things that we like to touch by reflex, like the Greeks who roll their rosary under their fingers. I like to make things alive. Marrying artificial life and technology is one of the constants of my work.
What are your latest challenges?
Mathieu Lehanneur:We are trying to develop, with researcher David Edwards, a Laboratory equivalent to that of Paris, in the United States. This project takes place with Harvard University, where David teaches, and will be close to MIT. The goal is to network researchers and designers. We have just finished the WikiBar, at the Paris Laboratory, which should open in March. The latter offers food whose packaging is edible. Food packaging is a subject that interests large retailers. There are still technical problems to be solved, but the hard part will be to overcome cultural habits. I am also working on a new version of my Andrea air purifier. The latter will be smaller than the previous, which has sold 20,000 copies, proof that people are sensitive to this subject of indoor pollution. It will land on a table so as to be closer to our breathing, so more effective. It should be ready for 2014.
You have also just answered an order from the palliative care unit of the Diaconesses Hospital in Paris. Tell us about this experience ...
Mathieu Lehanneur:Gilbert Desfosses, the head of palliative care for the Diaconesses, wanted to help his patients other than through a medical intervention. He thought first of all to commission a work from an artist. He approached the Fondation de France, who offered him to hire a designer. We met, it was four years ago. At first, I did not know at all what I wanted to do. My intervention had to involve both end-of-life patients and their families and the medical team. I imagined a circular screen to have in each room. Everyone is connected to a sky chosen by the patient. It is an LED screen, filtered with a honeycomb system, connected to international weather sites. The data is retrieved in real time. People find themselves facing a sky, they can go elsewhere, have a spiritual experience if they wish. My idea was to stay as light as a weather station. This fabricated landscape offers both a focus for the family and an escape for the patient at the end of life. With this sky, we can talk about the time it takes to get around the question of how much time is left. Many patients and families told me that it did them a lot of good. This sky is nothing and nevertheless it puts in a dynamics of life. I believe more than anything that design can offer. If I do this job, it is to arrive at this type of orders.
(1) Mathieu Lehanneur. Things, Grand-Hornu (Belgium), 00-32-65-65-21-21, www.grand-hornu.eu. Until March 31st.
Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Paris (IVe), 01-42-78-80-92. The Laboratory, Paris (I), 01-78-09-49-50. Galerie Slott, Paris (3rd), www.slottparis.comMondomio, Paris (7th), 01-44-18-35-59.