review

Stéphane Barbier Bouvet: between form and function

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In his conceptual exhibition at Maniera gallery, the Swiss designer Stéphane Barbier Bouvet strips manufactured objects of their non-essential components to create forms that have a presence as well as a function.

If you pass by Maniera gallery after nightfall, don't be fooled by Stéphane Barbier Bouvet's dissimulations. In the middle of the gallery, which is shrouded in darkness, three narrow metal cabinets are arranged back to back, their doors open to reveal a white light. Despite appearances, the gallery is not closed: it is scrupulously following the artist's directions. Now living in Brussels, the Swiss artist works on the boundary between art and design. The unique pieces, which he creates with the rigour and perfectionism of a designer, make up the elements of an installation that examines the place of design in our lives and in our cities.

People, the exhibition that Barbier Bouvet created for Maniera, explores the links between function and object. He does so by applying a principle of reducing and emptying. What happens when we relieve mundane and everyday mass-produced objects of their prescribed functions? What more do they have to tell us?

1690 Stephane Barbier Bouvet- People

In three chapters, our relationship with objects is explored. “Autori­té” examines the street furniture that is imposed on us and that is meant to guide our steps and our movements. The three metal cabinets are of the kind that contain the control systems for traffic lights, the electric grid, or the telephone network. The artist emptied them completely of their contents, leaving only a glass shelf and some LED lights. Attached to the wall of the gallery and even outside it are specially made lamps, similar to those found on city walls. The artist then had fun varying them by transforming the materials or by modifying their function in order bathe the basement in nightclub-style light in “Illusion”.

“Désir” makes us reflect on objects as if they were an infinity mirror held up to wealth and social standing. The cardboard boxes that Stéphane Barbier Bouvet has repackaged to make a bench, a side table, or a wastepaper basket were gathered from the pavement after expensive Brussels boutiques had closed. The resulting objects and fixtures have a presence which is due more to their function than to the forms and materials that they are made of. We can invent a life for them.

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