Choice of life, festival of African innovation in Saint-Étienne, hub of French design


The Covid pandemic has highlighted the need to reevaluate life priorities. With this in mind, the organizers of the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne in eastern France have chosen ‘bifurcation’ – the French word for ‘bifurcation’ – as this year’s theme, urging visitors to ‘choose what matters “.

With Africa in the spotlight, visitors will spend four months in Saint-Étienne, UNESCO’s “creative city of design”, to discover innovative objects, services and installations presented in seven major exhibitions.

Some 235 artists and designers are represented out of 100 exhibitions and 48 facilities focused on African innovation.

Beyond that, there are workshops, talks, concerts, and a host of other exhibits in various locations.

Multiple paths

It turns out that life is full of “forks”, constantly influenced by events that force us to change direction, for better or for worse. Left or right? Up or down? Fast or slow? Coal or nuclear? New or recycled?

The global Covid pandemic was surely one of those times.

“With this biennale, we discover how designers write their roadmap with others, multiply the paths they take, share their tools, question the forms of poverty, sobriety, frugality”, explains the scientific director of the event, Olivier Peyricot.

“We see how it resonates in our immediate material environment.”

Africas, plural

The exhibition “Singulier Plurielles: Dans les Afriques contemporaines”, curated by architectural researcher and scenographer Franck Houndégla, aims to share the design practices used in urban and rural communities in contemporary Africa, and to determine how they might be applied elsewhere.

On display are low-tech handwashing stations from a workshop at ESADSE (Saint-Étienne Higher School of Art and Design) following a Senegalese project, designed by Bassirou Wade.

There is also an e-health device that facilitates medical care, an integrated agro-ecological production center and contemporary furniture designed with a network of local artisans and materials.

Among the artists involved is Chaz Maviyane-Davies from Zimbabwe, an artist who returns to the themes of human rights and social justice.

Visitors will be able to admire an installation of “microarchitecture”, an original creation by Cheick Diallo, as part of the “Parcours des Bifurcations”, an immersive outdoor route allowing pedestrians to connect the various exhibition rooms while observing sculptures.

Meanwhile, “Autofiction – A Biography of the Object-Car” is an exploration of want versus need, focusing on people’s obsession with cars.

As the number of cars on earth surpassed the 1.2 billion mark in 2020, there has been a trend to rethink the way we consume, to rethink our relationship to our resources, and to rethink our political and social stances.

One of the workshops linked to this exhibition questions the advent of the electric car and its impact in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is based on a project by artist Jean Katambayi, in Lubumbashi.

“Le jardin au jet d’eau” (April 5 – July 31) is a real-time garden construction project at La Serre, a former school of fine arts, where Emmanuel Louisgrand will recreate a water jet garden that realized in the Sicap district of Dakar, Senegal.

It was the artist’s way of resisting the encroachment of urban areas on nature. In this installation, she revisits the French garden in a contemporary African version and invites other designers from the Biennale to present their works here.

“Cameleon Portraits” (June 1 – July 31) is an amazing photo exhibition at Parc Labesse in Myette Fauchère that explores the notion of collective identity in African society, particularly through the theme of ceremonies and rituals.

She creates an optical illusion for the viewer by having the people in her photos wearing clothes of a matching colored fabric, against a background of the same fabric. In the end, only the black faces, hands and feet are visible.

Africa is also at the center of the concerns of the MAMC+ Modern and Contemporary Art Museum, where the public will be introduced to the humanist principles of “Botho”, a vision of the world based on the culture of respect of southern Africa.

The “Globalisto: a philosophy in motion” is a collective exhibition (June 25 – October 16) bringing together 15 artists from different generations, nationalities and backgrounds, such as Gerard Sekoto and Josèfa Ntjam.

Home Away From Home

Other major exhibits include “Unfolding (Unfolding): The Body and the Industrial Object Get to Grips,” curated by Florian Traullé.

This is an opportunity to see how designers adapt to changing needs and constraints, whether technical, ecological, social or economic.

How about a rainwater harvester so it’s there when you really need it?

Or a haute couture outfit made from ready-to-wear scraps?

“At Home: A Panorama of Our Domestic Lives” examines all aspects of the modern home, which has become more than just a shelter: it’s an office, a playground, a stage for social media.

Curators Penny Sparke, Jana Scholze and Catharine Rossi from Kingston University in London have chosen five main themes to explore the house from a historical perspective, its association with the construction of identity, the need for sustainability and the “connected” home, with the latest gadgets.

the The Saint-Étienne International Design Biennial from April 6 to July 31, 2022.

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