Seven questions with... Roxane Lahidji
Designer and self-described ‘alchemist’, Roxane Lahidji, talks to Hole & Corner about her intense connection to place and nature, how she designs for herself as much as for others, and how she sees the future of sustainable design practices…
Tell us about yourself and what you do…
I was born and raised in Paris, but as a kid and teenager, I was quite a traveller. I kept on drawing all sorts of things I had in my mind and therefore my career ideas were constantly evolving – from fashion designer to story-boarder. I am always slow at making up my mind or making decisions and had a problem with the perspective of hyper specialisation. I am interested in many topics and I like to connect or overlap concepts in my thinking. Therefore after high school, I went into design because it gave me the widest range of creative possibilities. After graduating I had the opportunity to show my work at various exhibitions and fairs. I was able to discover the world of contemporary and collectable design as well as interact with a large panel of professionals. Those few months of constant brainstorming and constructive feedbacks convinced me to start my own studio and develop my practice. I am now building an expertise in material research, and deepening experiences with new projects in collaborations with companies or fellow designers; meanwhile producing work on demand for private clients or galleries.
What do you seek to express through your practice?
My own questions, wonders and doubts. I try to fill a void in my own surroundings with the objects I make and systematically design for myself. Although living in an urban environment, my family and I were regularly leaving the city to gather things in the wilderness. I think those landscapes stayed engraved in my memory as a symbol of self-completion and contentment. Since my studies started I gave myself less and less time in these cherished places such as the French Alps, the Corsican maqui or Norwegian forests. My objects incarnate an attempt to reproduce those landscapes, or at least their memory, and place them in my surroundings so I can dwell with them. I honestly think about seeking a literal cohabitation with “Nature” in my practice, and what it means to me.
How does the natural world inspire you?
I am attracted to natural contrasts in landscapes, between shades and textures, and their belonging to a specific region. I dig inspiration from geological images and minerals as, composition-wise, they show a unique combination of patterns and colours defining a certain identity. I find a magic in stones embodying a geological formation; it is a permanent testimony of an ephemeral phenomenon and the unique equation result of a specific time taken in a specific space. In that way, and in my eyes, they still surpass the industrial efficiency of artificial stones. You will never find two identical rocks, trees or leaves, which makes their value unquantifiable. This is what I try to recreate but in a man-made version. It is impossible for me to produce the same piece twice because their patterns are handmade and the gestures conducted.
What materials resonate with you the most?
I like to work with fluid materials as I don’t feel in conflict with them, or bending/breaking them to take a certain shape. I’ve experimented with ceramics, all kinds of binders (resins, glues, gums etc.) filled with classical or unconventional powders (mineral dust, pigments etc.) waxes. Since I started my studies with illustration and graphic design it is important for me to draw and make the object simultaneously, and it is part of my process.
What kind of objects do you like to make?
I have a peculiar attraction for objects comprising fullness and emptiness, such as tableware, vases, candle holders, hourglasses etc. I associate them with rituals (ancient or new, common or exceptional) and rituals imply dedicating time and attention to gestures and to objects. Both the user and the object become actors of the ritual and I like the idea of considering objects as subjects, not only as functions or decorations.
Do you think designers have an innate responsibility to be sustainable or do the demands of the consumer need to change before this becomes a reality?
The sustainability challenge we all share and face remains my biggest concern, I thrive to express it and work with it. However, I wouldn’t name it a responsibility, not for a designer or anybody. Production and consumption habits are a matter of personal choices and priorities… My design is not meant as moralistic or patronising. Changing a mindset is far more easy than concretising it – especially when it comes to industrial standards, trends and programmed obsolescence. I remember once reading an interview from a famous Dutch designer saying; ‘The greenest thing you can do is not to design at all,’ which in my opinion perfectly illustrates the contradiction in naming oneself a sustainable designer. The environmental crisis revealed an urgent need for solutions and generated a reason to push technological improvement, to adapt production and to re-invent materials. A sustainable designer can be seen as self-contradictory or as a tautology, but in any case, it is worth any other creative title and pretext. I personally believe in two types of sustainability; designing durable objects with a strong and local identity, which people can easily identify with and therefore keep longer (stepping away from mass production); or on the contrary, focus on organic recycled material (adapting mass production) with a reduced lifetime and a close-to-zero ecological impact. Ideally, I would like to combine both but I remain convinced that the future of design is locally orientated, both in terms of material and technology.
What do you hope to achieve through your work?
I try not to hope and have already achieved more than I expected… When it comes to values, I need to compose on a daily basis with what I am given and find compromises. However, I hope to keep on learning as much as I do today, to articulate and deepen my critical thinking, and to initiate projects abroad. If future conditions allow it, I would like to develop a certain vision of local design and slow production with different kinds of materials in collaboration with locals. Changing our perception of value remains at the core of my design interests and I hope to encourage the democratisation of recycled materials by contributing to their implementation in the daily environment.