There's something apt about making the trip to Pantin, just beyond the ring road that demarcates central Paris, to take in 'Voyage to Uchronia', Matali Crasset's new show. Uchronia, for starters, refers to a theoretical construct of unspecified time rather than place (the word was coined by 19th-century French social thinker Charles Renouvier as a portmanteau of 'utopia' and 'chronos'). The trip isn't far - a half hour on the Métro or commuter train - but it allows the necessary distance before arriving at an installation based on reflection and respite.
Crasset has created a sort of otherworld within one of the buildings that makes up Thaddaeus Ropac's fourth gallery (formerly a heating factory, it opened last November). And the compound's contemplative, contemporary design is conducive to Crasset's environment - an imagined setting where modules of grey felt furniture are meant to represent a primitive community. Accent walls of vibrant orange and calming blue are connected by grooves of black tape that suggest a river current.
The upright alcoves (each built from metal and padded before being covered in felt) have been shaped into pointed hoods, giving them an anthropomorphic look (picture an avant-garde cult) that contributes to the enveloping sensation when experienced from within. Stand or sit inside and the sound levels instantly change (two pieces are actually
equipped with overhead speakers that pipe in a mix of nature and industrial noises). More impressively, they seem to block out the world.
'It's this idea of not resting in the superficial external world but bringing ideas towards you to reflect, to compose,' she said
yesterday as finishing touches were put on the installation. 'I also wanted to give a human presence to furniture.'
Variations on the theme include two hooded forms decorated with photographs of prominent social thinkers (with a copy of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Jane Addams' 'The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets' tucked into a pocket); one is equipped with an old Chinese wood bell and another is placed prostrate, resembling a canoe.
Crasset acknowledges how, as an industrial designer, she must tweak her thinking when inhabiting an art space. 'I'm doing something between furniture and sculpture,' she says. Anyway, her signatures - graphic, ephemeral, vegetal elements - are just as evident here as, say, in her public commissions or budget hotels.
But perhaps this is where the 15-minute film, directed by Juli Susin with Julia Rublow, establishes an additional 'art' layer. Projected onto the far wall, it was shot in a forest near Vienne, France, and features a small group of her friends and family playing the inhabitants of Uchronia. They perform a ritual in the presence of a a herd of wild boars and soak up the sun wearing campy futuristic reflective dishes around their necks.
Calling it an 'initiatory' experience, she says the narrative reinforces the link between our primitive ways of gathering and a sort of ideal future. Of course, this is merely Crasset's interpretation of a Uchronia and one, she hopes, of many. 'I want people to feel the idea of this community first and then I want them to understand the role of permanence - the permanent part of ourselves which exists in every type of society - and also the idea of introspection.'
Crasset says she is unsure what will come of the pieces after the show (they would make for novel meditation zones in a home or hotel). 'It's uncalculated,' she says. Which, in a way, makes perfect sense. A show conceived around eliminating the constraints of time should not require any further planning beyond the present.