Constance Guisset offers a personal, theatrical glimpse into her decade-long career
Wearing two professional hats as a designer and scenographer, Constance Guisset had, to some degree, an advantage in preparing her solo show at Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs; knowing the subject as well as anyone, she could present her objects and her creative process with extra touches of whimsy and introspection.
A decade into her prolific career, Guisset has resisted a retrospective staging, instead organising her carte blanche invitation as two corresponding parts. For the first, titled ‘Museum Life’, she interspersed a selection of her streamlined, liveable designs throughout the museum’s permanent collection of medieval artifacts. As one example, the oversized ‘Trois Conversations’ statement seating with its dégradé red to yellow canopy is surrounded by circa-1500s polychrome sculpture. As another, her ‘Sol’ armchair for Molteni & C, her tableware conceived for Monoprix earlier this year, and her cape-like lamps for Moustache recast a carved wood Renaissance table with 21st century flair.
‘When you put your things in a collection, you introduce a counterpoint and I’m playing with that,’ she explains during a walkthrough with us. Playing indeed, seeing as how, in several scenarios, she has given voices to the inanimate objects. In the room that ‘Plume’, her new modular bed for Cyrillus, shares with an oak-framed canopy bed, a recorded conversation imagines them as Millennial nephew chatting with a wizened uncle. ‘The typology is almost the same,’ she explains of the beds. ‘I find it really interesting to be integrated through the dialogue – and then there’s the pleasure of looking, too.’
As visitors enter into the second part, ‘The Life of Design’, they pass through a darkened room colonised with white ‘Vertigo’ hanging lamps, arguably her most recognisable creation. Here, the bulbs have been removed, and spotlights emphasise their airy spokes and undulating shape. They’ve been suspended lower than usual and twirl without effort so that they appear theatrical – animated in a different sense. On the walls are algebraic formulae produced by Laurent Derobert, an ‘existential mathematician’, that apparently represent abstract states of movement and order (fittingly, one of them is labeled Inconstance).
‘Canova’ plate, 2017, by Constance Guisset, for Moustache
It’s worth pointing out that Guisset chose ‘Actio!’ as the name of the show, which as a Latin noun, is the origin of action. By this token, each room reflects a thematic verb accompanied by a free-verse poem, establishing a more conceptual, interpretative approach than usual. ‘Take Flight’ includes her travel kit for Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades series (2012) and her propeller-style jewellery in collaboration with Arteum and Galerie MiniMasterpiece; whereas ‘Seduce’ features ‘Apollo’, a beautiful lamp prototype that conjures up a lunar surface in plaster, in addition to edited furniture designs that showcase her way with curvy forms.
Those who often associate Guisset’s style with a liberal use of vibrant hues – in 2012, she received the Wallpaper* Design Award for ‘Best Use of Colour’ – might be surprised to discover the extent to which this is downplayed. She insists she wasn’t about refuting that reputation so much as signalling how it is situation specific. As proof, her premise for ‘Live’ involves two identically furnished spaces, whereby one is in colour and the other is greyscale. Both radiate different personalities yet they are equally inviting. For Guisset, this underscores the fluid, adaptive nature of her work. ‘I think we are always both... I have no taboos with colour, so people think I’m crazy about yellow and pink together, but it’s not definitive for me. I’m really open,’ she says, noting that her Paris apartment leans more neutral. ‘I don’t think you’re the same person the whole day; or the same person here as elsewhere; or all either feminine or masculine. I’m just saying that and colour changes the perception of the objects.’
Still, it’s possible to glimpse the designer in her most personal state within ‘Breathe’, a room that encompasses an inspiration wall revealing seedlings of ideas, or as she puts it, ‘interactions, ramifications, osmosis, connections’. This is also where she has placed ‘Leviosa’, a lamp that took a decade to complete on account of a levitating electric magnet ‘satellite’ that functions as a switch.
With an ever-present soundtrack generating a deep hum of chords punctuated by squeaky strings, the immersive ambiance conjured by Guisset lives up to her desire for something simultaneously cinematic and pedagogic. ‘I thought of it as a film where you could travel inside,’ she said, following up later with the thought: ‘I think it’s very important to transmit. It’s not just a way to look at yourself.’
But if delving into her universe is best experienced first-hand, those unable to see the show can still appreciate her sensitivity from afar. As we stood in ’Set Loose’, within sight of ‘Cumulus’, her cloud-shaped essential oil diffuser and ‘Francis’, a familiar circular mirror with its watercolour accents, Guisset arrived at her point of differentiation. ‘I think we need empathetic objects and most of mine are,’ she said. ‘I consider that objects should be nice to people; and we need objects that are nice to us because the world is tough.’