LUCA ATTILIO CAIZZI: Hi Clémence, we met at your exhibition during Paris Design Week at the Bibliothèque de la Ville de Paris, literally under your object. I deliberately use the term object to define the result of research, of something. How do you approach the definition of “design beyond the object”?
CLÉMENCE ALTHABEGOÏTY: “Design beyond the object” would be to do research on a specific topic and its linked usages, and to imagine modes of existence in response to it. In this sense, the result of the intention, the “object” you are describing could take many shapes, from law-making to crafting furniture. A typical example taught at the Design Academy Eindhoven was that we wouldn’t be asked to design a chair, but to reflect on the needs of sitting within a context. Within the design process, here a chair can be an answer, yet the field of possibilities is large. Within my practice, I try to keep this reflective method, starting from a topic, researching the context, the local materials, the politics involved, and always questioning the actual needs for creating material objects.
LAC: The pairing and definition of designer and visual artist is very common these days, where do you think your research on the project (Récolter) la pluie fits in?
CA: This word association has been a long-term reflection as I feel very like-minded to the “design” world. In the Netherlands, where I studied, the understanding of what a designer can do is large enough to include visual art. However, to be able to work on various missions, I still use both terms to make myself understood. I enjoy seeing it not as a pair but as a field where boxes are mixed and blurred, where a creative person can be both a designer and an artist. I think there is an opening up of boundaries of creative fields’ definitions as components of a multi-dimensional spectrum in which diverse identified practices are falling. “(Récolter) la pluie” has a functional attribute, regarding its usage—harvesting rainwater and fog—and so it would be closer to design on the creative spectrum.
LAC: We note your relationship with the natural elements that are always central in your research. What is your relationship with nature?
CA: Following many critical thinkers, the term “nature” is a social construction. I consider that I am part of it and deeply connected to it. Indeed, I am fascinated by the interactions of materials with elements such as air, water, earth, and the way they can be used to create alternatives to our current modern ways of life. Either by raising awareness, by creating objects, by proposing experiences. This is truly the main thread of my work.
LAC: You have studied in several European cities, but Paris and France are almost always mentioned in your work. How does France respond to your ideas?
CA: Certainly! It is mainly a matter of making local projects, which is very important in my practice. Most of my student works were also located where I studied (London, Eindhoven). I consider projects are relevant within a situated context. Since I started my own studio in 2020, and despite the pandemic, I had many positive answers in France. There weren’t certainties about how my practice would be welcome. Thus, these feedbacks gave me a lot of hope for the future, as I wish to flourish my work here. Besides, I am open to collaborate on projects abroad with other creatives minds, scientists, institutions, etc!
LAC: The impression is that everything works and that everything is immediately understandable. What led you to design this object?
CA: Back in 2016, I did my internship in South Africa in Cape Town where I worked for an association called “The Shift”. It aimed to design open-source objects, with no or low energy consumption, using local materials. After this internship, I had a shock on my position as a designer and my privilege to be able to come work there. During this internship, I’ve made researches on different methods of rain harvesting. Once back in the Netherlands, for my graduation, I wanted to create an independent structure to harvest rainwater and fog with a piece of textile, that could be used in off-grid contexts. I got inspired by ancient engineering, scoutism, and “survivalist” methods. To develop the project, I’ve collaborated with Arno Geesink, an engineer on the hyperboloïdal structure, Nathalie Vann Veen, a scientist specialised in water harvesting, Sia Hurtigkarl Degel on the textile design, Paul Stümpel and Luca Claessens on the graphic and web design of the open-source manual. My project can be defined as a “principle”, meaning that the version you saw at the BHVP (Bibliothèque Nationale Historique de la Ville de Paris) is one version, which can be declined into multiple materials, sizes and shapes, according to the context. It comes with a larger desire to create objects, experiences and surroundings inviting for a frugal mode of living.
LAC: Are there any potential developments on the actual use of this approach for water collection? What is the future of this project?
CA: Yes, the next step is to build it within specific contexts. Indeed, this project is one of the few that remained in the state of a prototype. We are collaborating together with the association La Fabrique des Impossibles to give workshops with a school and with inhabitants from Seine-Saint-Denis. We work on a program with children to sensitize them on water collection, and with the citizens to create some rain collectors in shared gardens. Some other associations and clients are interested in having one in their place too. Last but not least, it will be exhibited in the Design Museum of Holon (Israel) in 2023!
Born in Paris in 1993, Clémence Althabegoïty lives and works in Paris, FR. She is a designer and visual artist based in Paris, France. She graduated from the Centre for Research Architecture of Goldsmiths (University of London) in 2019, Beaux-Arts de Paris in 2018, and Design Academy Eindhoven in 2016. Using contextual analyses and material research, she designs objects, spaces, and environments. Her practice aims to create alternative solutions, raise awareness and think critically about matters such as pollution (noise, air, and ground) and water scarcity. By applying unique properties of materials, each project becomes an opportunity to explore new media and create site-specific works. She participated in exhibitions at Lumen Gallery (CRA, 2020) in London (UK), in Kazerne (Hope, 2019) and TAC (DDW, 2016) in Eindhoven (NL), in Préàvie (-196°C, 2022), in Hôtel Coulanges (Paris Design Week, 2020), and Musée Cognacq-Jay (Paris Design Week, 2016) in Paris (FR). In 2020, she received the First Prize from YouFab Creative Awards. In 2021, she is laureate of the Grant Travrsées from CIPAC, FRAAP, and Réseau Diagonal, of FAIRE 2021 of Pavillon de l’Arsenal, and of Wisewomen 2021 in the category Art & Creation.