What if Object Interview Had to Retire?

Milan

11 July 2019

“You want me to leave?”

It’s a poignant first line. Colonna, a cabinet built into the interior of a leopard-print marquetry column, is being forced out of their job. Designed by Alessandro Mendini in 1988, Colonna tries to stress that they have been a diligent employee. “I have been granted employee of the week for the past 31 years,” they explain. But sometimes it’s just your time to go.

In 2017, the designer Alexandre Humbert launched Object Interview, a series of films that gave voice to otherwise mute objects. Over the course of 18 one-minute films, Humbert cast designed objects in strange scenarios, scripting dialogue for them as they battled with their day to day existence and struggles. “Object Interview isn’t focusing on the story or process of an object,” said Humbert upon the project’s launch. “It’s about the post-process after an object is born, and what is happening in its daily life. The designer creates an object and then I try to find its personality.” 

Today, the project’s 19th (and final) film launches online. It seems fitting that the honours for the series’s concluding chapter should fall to Mendini and Colonna. When Mendini passed in February 2019, he left behind a legacy of work that was variously functional, absurd, critically engaged, witty, elegant, crass, and provocative – often simultaneously. “All my objects are like characters,” Mendini told Dezeen in 2015. “One is good, another one is bad. It’s a kind of comedy and tragedy.”

This multivalent quality of Mendini’s output seems to be at the heart of Humbert’s project. “The moment you start to interact with an object – it could be the way you look at it, sit on it, or whatever – you start to give life to something that is otherwise inanimate,” he explained at the project’s launch. “Objects have stories to tell, but there are a lot of ways of telling those stories.”

Throughout Object Interview’s lifespan, Humbert collaborated twice with Disegno, working with the photographer Teresa Giannico to create scripts and scenarios in which objects interacted with one another. Front’s Horse lamp fell out with Nicholai Wiig Hansen’s Night Owl lamp over a stolen hat, while Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens social housing reconnected with its long-lost mother, Gio Ponti’s D.235.1 chair.

Humbert’s situations were always absurd – whether through their plotting, or simply through the casting of domestic objects in kitchen-sink drama style scenarios – but this strangeness was always the point of the enterprise. Object Interview was blessed with a kind of permissiveness, and a desire for discussion of design that could stretch outside of familiar touchstones within the discourse, such as function or aesthetics. Objects are what we make of them, so why not make as much of them as we can? If a chair can do something as extraordinary as give birth to a housing estate, then what else might it do, and what other ways of thinking about it might there be? Object Interview’s absurdity was always a way of provoking fresh ways of connecting to our designed environment.

Now, however, Humbert is wrapping up Object Interview with its 19th entry. It is a bittersweet moment, particularly for a series whose message remains valid, but a sense of finality and culmination seems apposite for a project rooted in narrative. While the series may be coming to an end, the stories it invites viewers to consider will not. As Colonna notes at the end of her interview, “I’ll never retire. At what time is the meeting tomorrow?”