Standing on concrete, the gaze reaches further

The first designers to be invited for a residency at the villa Rohannec’h starting in August 2018, Les M Studio (a two-women gig created in 2007 by Céline Merhand and Anaïs Morel) have a wide scope of action that includes the villa itself, the grounds, as well as the cabins located below, near the Valais beach. The residency is intended to be experimental and exploratory – this is no commission aimed at finding solutions to clearly identified issues. With no initial recommendations, the designers were encouraged to create something based on the location and its landscapes, its dwellers, its material resources and their uses.

The residency started with a long phase of meetings and observation, with the villa itself as the point of reference. Built around 1900, the villa Rohannec’h was initially the property of a wealthy shipowner, who was delighted to be able to watch the departure and return of his boats from his own windows. During World War II it was requisitioned by German soldiers, and was later bought by the département(then called Côtes du Nord), establishing a girl’s Home Economics school there, which became a co-educational agricultural high school in the 1980s. During all these years, the villa also hosted children’s summer camps in July and August. The high school was relocated in 1994 and the villa was opened to Bosnian refugees fleeing the war in Yugoslavia. It was not until the beginning of the 2010s that the villa’s cultural programme was launched, shortly after the grounds were opened to the public.

The house’s interior retains the traces of these different periods and occupations: motley tiles, multiple coats of paint, successive layers of wallpaper. As only the ground floor is currently accessible to visitors, Les M Studios decided to document these decorations from the past, which have remained invisible. They started collecting patterns (from the floors and walls) as well as all the main colours used inside the house, gathering fragments from the villa’s past history, destined to disappear after its restoration.

From this poetic investigation, Les M Studio drew an entire repertory of colours and patterns with which to design an object. They decided to produce a piece of street furniture, in order to take advantage of the villa grounds, as well as making the interior history visible at last through an outside element. The other point the designers were struck by during their stays at the villa was the importance of the sea view. Through the many windows, one can almost always see the blue expanse, as if one were standing at the top of a look-out post. The studio decided to explore the concept of openings, along two different lines: opening up towards the inside (and the villa’s history), and opening up towards the landscape (through an elevated view point) – which explains the simple title they gave the work, Window.

The two designers defined a simple formal vocabulary: an arch made from galvanised steel, a concrete cylinder and a horizontal metal bar circling around the cylinder. The arch, a shape that the villa’s windows make very much present in its architecture, frames the landscape. The cylinder is a promontory on which to perch, visitors can climb up on it in order to see better. The horizontal line gives stability to the whole thing, visually and structurally. The concrete base, formed by two juxtaposed parts, is treated so that brushing one’s hand against it, one can feel its texture. The soft and harmonious colours are the same ones that are used in the house’s interior decoration (the colourful aggregates on the concrete’s surface are also a reminder of the patterns inside the villa).This stratification of colours and materials reflect the different historical layers embedded in the villa’s walls. All the history, all the gazes turned towards the sea are collected in the form of a piece of urban furniture. Located in the public space of the grounds, Windowis of course a piece of urban furniture, but it is also a game element, and, to a certain extent, a piece of sculpture. It is particularly comparable to what the sculptor Émilie Perotto calls “use sculptures”, that can be utilised and whose aesthetic experience is channelled by physical perception, for instance Isamu Nugochi’s or Pierre Székely’s playgrounds, or Enzo Mari’s Big Stone Gamein Carrara in 1968.Behaviours towards Windowremain unpredictable. Placed in a slightly removed location behind the villa, the structure can be used to play, to perch on to see further away, to hang from if one is tall enough, it can be a meeting point or just a place to sit down (even though the base’s 70cm height is not traditional for seating). Many other uses can be imagined, and different people will doubtlessly find more: a table for picnics in the sun, a place for Sunday-morning joggers to stretch, or a set for wedding pictures. Window’s function is not pre-imposed, and it can constantly be redefined, echoing the villa’s cultural programme, which is deliberately open and constantly under development. It is paradoxically by choosing indecision that Windowis most able to translate what constitutes the villa Rohannec’h, stating its resolutely mobile project in a palpable, tangible and colourful form.

Text by Lilian Froger, PhD of Contemporary Art History


Outdoor furniture


Commission: Villa Rohannec’h and Documents d’Artistes Bretagne

Photos credits: Julien Mota