Azure: How did you break into the world of product design?
Sebastian Bergne: One of my breakthrough projects early on was a lamp that I designed and had produced myself, immediately after leaving college. It was cut from a thin sheet of stainless steel …. At the time, it got a lot of press, and received lots of awards, and it’s in the Museum of Modern Art in New York – for me, at that time, that was a massive hit. It’s recently gone out of production, but that’s 25 years later. It could come back! You never know. But that was an important thing for me, a calling card for a little while, which allowed me to get into other areas.
AZ: Most of your work is with everyday objects. What attracts you to this area?
SB: A lot of people don’t expect common objects to be so thought about, because they’re kind of mundane, if you like. But I like the fact that they become as important as a more historically precious thing. It’s saying, this is important as a work of art.
Also, because you have a lot of expectations about how everyday objects should behave – what the “norm” is – you can play with that, either by going against it, or playing with it. So people recognize certain objects for what they are, and once you start pushing back against that preconception, then you actually have something to work with that’s really quite interesting.
AZ: Some of your products are completely practical, some are totally decorative, and many fall right in between. Do you consciously try to strike a balance between art and function, or is this something that just emerges?
SB: Each project is different. I deliberately try to avoid using a proscribed approach or process for all the projects that I do. Each time, you’ve got a different client, different needs, different expectations. You can’t bang on and approach them exactly the same way; you need to adapt your approach.
Sometimes, the innovation in the things we do is almost invisible; it’s a very small step in an evolutionary process. Other times it’s much more radical, and much more visible. Looking over my body of work, you might think there’s quite a lot of difference between some of the projects. But that’s because they’re very different projects. It’s just a different context every time.
AZ: Many of your designs employ curves that lend them a distinctiveness that straight lines can’t achieve; they impart a sense of personality, without necessarily anthropomorphizing. Do you see that figuring into your process?
SB: It’s not a deliberate thing. I mean, some things we do are all straight lines, but I’m quite conscious of the fact that historically there is a lot of modernist design which is very minimal and very clean, but which also has a harshness to it; it becomes almost stark in its minimalness. I’m aware that some people reject that. That’s a human reaction. Objects have to have a certain softness, and that can come through material, or shape – all different aspects.
It’s really about creating a relationship between the object and the person who’s going to use it, some kind of comfort or sympathy between the two. If you can break down that barrier a little bit by making it more appealing in some other way – somehow recognizable, familiar – that’s a good thing, because you’re helping that relationship.
Azure: You’ve been curating a selection of innovative household objects for Solutions, an exhibit at Ambiente, for several years now. Can you explain the premise behind this feature?
SB: All products shown are in production and available here at the fair. Solutions tries to highlight products and companies for whom innovation is important. Sometimes it’s not about a formal design, or being particularly beautiful, but it’s more about ideas than visual qualities. A lot of the stuff looks great as well, but occasionally we have products which look terrible, but are brilliant ideas.
There are loads and loads of different types of products, which really cover the breadth of what goes on at the fair. This year, we included Side By Side’s Kehrbesenset; it’s a handbrush – with a simple magnet, it becomes a broom. The UnBrella by H Concept feels a little bit like a surreal object, because it’s so unintuitive – we have such an expectation of an umbrella. But by turning it round, they’ve created something that is much stronger than a normal umbrella. It behaves differently in wind, it folds itself if it gets into stress, rather than breaking, and it stands up to dry.
AZ: What are you looking for when you jury this exhibit?
SB: Is it more useful? Does it make life a little bit easier? Or is it just an idea – just, what I might call a gimmick? Where it’s just attracting attention but actually isn’t very useful? There are lots of those kind of products out there. A product needs to be improved to allow something else to happen, or is intelligent in some kind of way.