In our busy contemporary lives silence seems the hardest thing to obtain. Our highly digitalised days mean we are constantly strapped to our phones, the computer and the visual and aural chaos that fills the space of the world’s biggest metropolises. And while much is being written about the need to slow down and relish in the stillness, and how meditation can help our productivity, it seems that the globalised world around us keeps getting faster and faster, moving at such a speed that “silence” has become a luxury itself.
With this in mind, for its 2017 spring edition Maison & Objet chose Silence as its theme. Through a specially curated exhibition, curator Elizabeth Leriche created scenography for the ‘inspirations space’ and found works by contemporary designers who specifically created design objects adhering to the call for silence in everyday life. “There’s been many times that we at the Maison have wanted to work with the theme of silence and we thought that now was the right moment because we are completed invaded by images, sounds, and connections through our laptops and telephones,” says Leriche. “There is now a real consciousness surrounding the need to take a break, stop for a moment and take time for oneself.”
L to R: Vase with stone by martín Azúa and Calm a work in absolute black granite or classic sinter resin by Guillaume Delvigne
In a medium-sized exhibition space at the fair set out in gradations of white and grey, a series of minimalist furniture, design objects and particular spaces offered a moment of pause and contemplation to exhibition visitors. Ironically, the show started off with lots of noise — several TV screens with rapidly moving images clouded our vision in an effort to recall what happens when we are saturated by moving pictures. Then all became quiet as we walked through a light infused corridor.
Before our eyes was the word silence emblazoned across the wall with the “e” missing its horizontal line. It was a simple and slightly humorous reminder of what we are missing. Then, in a succession of rooms and various recesses, visitors were offered places where they could daydream, have a moment of contemplation and enjoy the luxury that silence provides. “There is a great movement now to find stillness; people are doing more meditation and increasingly concerned about wellness and we wanted to explore how this could be translated in material – into design,” says Leriche.
“Within the theme of silence is also the notion of time,” adds Leriche. “Most people are constantly running and stressed out and on the verge of burnout. And now, designers are looking for ways to help people calm down and find serenity.” In preparation for the exhibition Leriche began to read various authors, especially sociologists, who examined the notion of silence. One in particular, Alain Corbin wrote a history of silence. “Silence is not merely the absence of noise,” he writes. “It is all but a forgotten notion nowadays. Our auditory marks have been distorted, diminished, they are no longer sacred […] the intimacy of a place — a bedroom and the objects that inhabit it, or a home — used to be defined by the silence that prevailed there.”
Delicate hand-blown glass vases, warm ceramics and dreamy photography of otherworldly natural vistas provide moments of solace. In Deep Sea by Nendo for Glas Italia, a series of stacked slabs of glass create a stunningly beautiful gradation of calming blues. One of the most powerful works is a sound installation made by an American geo acoustician who went around the world recording places that haven’t been disturbed by human noise. According to his research, there are only around 50 places that haven’t been touched by human sound. In the installation visitors could listen to natural silence such as sounds on a desert landscape at night, chirping birds and the natural movements that permeate the juggle.
“I was trying to create an exhibition that offered respite from the pollution of sound,” says Leriche. “Silence is also about wellness. There are many people who live in cities with constant noise and end up developing sicknesses because of it.” Finding design solutions to help curb the affects from the lack of silence can ultimately help to better our health.
The journey ends with a bookshop — the epitome of a silent place. It is filled with white ceramic books each with a white object between its pages. Handmade by master ceramists, they invite once again a moment of pause and contemplation. “I wanted visitors to start posing questions,” adds Leriche. “I wanted them to be able to have a moment of intimacy with an object and with a space.” If we were to speak about style, the objects in this exhibition are extremely minimalist, simple and unassuming but what they offer are little moments in which to find ourselves. They provide sensations brought on by silence and as such act as portals into the serenity and happiness we all seek.
Maison&Objet Paris ran from 20-24 January 2017. For more information visit maisonetobjet.com