Benjamin Foucaud is a designer and cabinet maker based in Amiens, France, who strays away from pigeonholing his creations into specific styles or themes. It is perhaps this persistence, of accrediting vagrancy to his designs, that imbues them with a charm beckoning fantastical and boundless reveries. His process too, is serendipitous. Instead of scoping out materials and sketching out designs as part of his creative process, the French designer assembles objects and offcuts, and employs a random, instinctually-led exercise of carving, trimming, and configuring shapes to his final pieces. Some results of this atypical building process are on view at the Boon_Room gallery in Paris, as part of Paris Design Week 2023, on from September 7 - 16, 2023.
From satirical connotations to mythological references, Foucaud’s body of work straddles the various categories falling under product design, while avoiding remitting inspiration from stories, legends, and ideas of all kinds. STIR enlists the showcased furniture designs conceived by Foucaud, which are on view during the design week.
Life on Mars Chair N°2
The ‘Life on Mars Chair N°2’ is part of the larger Life on Mars collection, borne as the result of the ‘unprecedented tensions of our time,’ as described by Foucaud. The collection exhibited at the design festival comprises chairs, a table design, and a fire pit, and seeks to acknowledge while questioning the new aesthetics apparent in the world. Foucaud argues that while sustainable design proposals suggest solutions that shun modern and industrial aesthetics, eschew the celebration of designs popularised by the bourgeois, and are characterised by the complete absence of tensions between civilisation and nature, their tangible results often end up following ‘the same aesthetic canons and cultural values that they denounce.’
With Life on Mars, the furniture designer carefully rejects this consideration, to build seemingly sustainable objects. Instead, he lets his serendipitous process guide their creation. Using available and found materials in his workshop, Foucaud improvised configurations that managed to stand sturdy while functioning as usable furniture. This has led to the creation of a body of work that is characterised by raw shapes. He elaborates, “Life on Mars is an attempt at a design of chaos; a design of dumpsters; scraps from workshops as much as a design of the wild and the living; a worker design; a design of craftsmen; a popular design; a design of improvisation; a design of lack; a design of non-availability; a design of serendipity.”
Hence, the collection portrays dichotomous personalities as it bears imprints of the brutalist process, while also embodying a sophisticated visage. The juxtaposition of indistinct forms gives these furniture pieces the tincture of spartan processes and their organic forms hint towards creations found in nature. Its richly lacquered surface, on the other hand, imbues the pieces with elegance and poise. The ‘Life on Mars Chair N°2,’ carved, wood-turned, and joined by hand, is made using French oak, ash and cherry wood, casein, pigment, ink, shellac, and wax. Together with the other pieces, the chair design seems to ask: ‘Why is it more comfortable for us to imagine a life on Mars than to rethink the aesthetic foundations that are ours?’
Wood-turned and carved by hand, Foucaud’s 'Mnémosyne' chair displayed at the design fair utilises French oak, iron acetate, stain, and wax. The chair and its name are inspired by a goddess of the same name in Greek mythology: a daughter of Uranus and Gaea, Mnemosyne was designated as the goddess of memory as well as the mother of the nine Muses, namely Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polymnia, Terpsichore, Talia, and Urania, who represent heroic poetry, history, lyric poetry, music, tragedy, hymns, dance, comedy, astronomy and astrology, respectively. Legend relays that one can remember their previous lives when seated on Mnemosyne’s chair.
“What I wanted to remind us and explore through this chair, was the human foundation that used to lie under crafted furniture pieces for centuries, and question their relevance, presence, and appeal in today’s contemporary design. By simply arranging our human desire and need for storytelling, translated into ornaments, traces of history, gesture and technical inheritance, I introduced patterns, visual and contextual clues of our human driving forces such as chaos, search for perfection, sensuality, distance to past and hopes, and observed the birth of a unique aesthetic,” the French product designer shares. Staying true to his process, Foucaud discarded all logical industrial elements such as symmetry and reproducibility and allowed his improvisational process to guide the creation of the chair once again. After employing scrap wood to build the piece, he completed it using century-old finishing techniques. “This chair used almost no electricity, or to be considered, a thousands times fewer resources than a typical CNC machined and laminated single piece of wood,” Foucaud shares.
The Stacked series exhibited at the design event comprises a collection of five vases that are inherently similar in the processes employed to build them. However, their personalities straddle a wider spectrum. Stacked comes together to pose a satirical question pertaining to the extant fetish of acquiring objects, driven by the whims of consumerism. Foucaud picked up random objects around him and carelessly stacked them atop each other to build these pieces that bear the potential of ultimately becoming ‘objects of desire.’ With regard to this process, Foucaud asserts, “Stripped of their main utility, each part dissolves into a whole, betraying its primary function in order to survive, leaving the viewer to decide whether this is a good or bad thing.”
This supposedly random stacking by Foucaud gives shape to objects that delineate and highlight ‘tensions between popular crafts and artistic crafts, subsistence crafts and decorative crafts.’ The vases also showcase the ability of improvisational processes to guide aesthetic ends. All the pieces acquired by the designer were first carved by him without a distinct preconceived thought in mind. He then collected them together in a corner of his workshop. Later, he began the process of assembling and organising them into cohesive objects, making each of the five vases, succinctly unique.
Benjamin Foucaud is showcasing ‘Life on Mars Chair N°2,’ ‘Mnémosyne Chair,’ and the ‘Stacked series’ at the Boon_room gallery in Paris, France during Paris Design Week 2023.