Greyscale / ToolsGalerie 2007

A no-go show for fans of talkative object! Never imposing on the eye, Normal Studio’s work invites to experience the ordinary. Jean-François Dingjian and Eloi Chafaï are deeply attached to notions of simplicity, and their first exhibition at ToolsGalerie presents wholly unaffected design. What they do is explore the obviousness of a very simple, almost archaic constructive logic – based on wooden cleats - through furniture that takes the shipping crate as a reference. The pieces’ functions are actually easily recognisable: the bookcase looks like a bookcase, the semainier looks like a semainier, the sideboard looks like a sideboard, the seat looks like a seat. The same is true of the lamps. Jean-François Dingjian and Eloi Chafaï approach basic archetypes without claiming to do so. Their work is highly demanding - a little like drawing with an eraser. Constraints stimulate them. Thus crudely put, it may sound a little harsh, and you could expect pretty indigent results. Quite the contrary. This boiling-down to the essential actually forces our attention to detail. What we are given to see is the result of a highly subtle approach. Subtleties in the assembly enhance a clarity of purpose wholly dedicated to usage. The collection as a whole explores different values of black and charcoal grey applied to a classic wood: oak, brushed or sanded, then tinted and varnished for the occasion. The sideboard stands apart, with its “metallic timber” finish. A very fine layer of polished and waxed pewter gives the wood’s veining a most unusual silver sheen. Surprise! A bright-green lacquer has invaded the inside of the piece. The only concession to colour. As astute observers of technical processes, collectors of materials, connoisseurs in technology transfers, Jean-François Dingjian and Eloi Chafaï are constantly on the lookout for new things to feed their formal production. Preparing for the exhibition was a time for experimentation, notably through the development of a peculiar black upholstering for the stool, made of gum-coated perforated sheet metal. As for the two lamps – one wall light, one floor light – they are a quirky take on the features of photography studio reflectors. Each reflector is fitted with a powerful magnet, making it fully directional and/or movable along a central mast or metal plates. Pure re-design, as design master Achille Castiglioni understood it. Nothing extraordinary (as in out of the ordinary), apart perhaps from an intelligence in the use of materials and techniques and how well it serves the project. These are simple pieces of exceptional quality.

Laurence Salmon