Caroline Naphegyi & Sam Baron

Design is a militant act that allows us to glimpse the possibilities of a better world.

Caroline Naphegyi is the director of Design for Change, a member of the artistic committee of the national stimulus plan for young creation and former director of programming for Lille Metropole World Design Capital 2020. Sam Baron is a creative director and designer. Together, they have developed France's proposal for the Porto Design Biennale, which runs from 2 June to 25 July 2021. Curators of the French pavilion, they have designed an exhibition in which they reinvent the relationship with the audience during a health crisis. 

Updated on 29/07/2021

5 min

Rencontre : Caroline Naphegyi & Sam Baron
Caroline Naphegyi et Sam Baron à la Porto Design Biennale 2021 © Renato Cruz Santos

This year, the theme of the Porto Design Biennale is Alter realities. How did you approach this theme? 

Sam Baron: We asked ourselves how design, a practice that normally allows us to imagine possible futures, could serve this potential "other reality".

Caroline Naphegyi: We were convinced that an exhibition bringing together French designers would not be a relevant response to our invitation from general curator, Alastair Fuad-Luke, to work on "alter-realities". We wanted to take into consideration the fact that neither of us were from Porto or Matosinhos (the city adjoining Porto where the Biennale takes place), nor did we live in Porto. As guests, we wanted to show that we were strangers to these cities and we wanted to make them discoverable through a route linking four sites selected for the occasion. We wanted to invite visitors to the Biennale to experience other realities, not just be spectators. The new lockdown in January in Portugal slowed down our momentum and we had to review our way of working.


How did Covid transform your project?

Sam Baron: Initially, we planned to bring together several people who didn't know each other to spend five days in Porto to think together about what design is and how we can answer the question of alter-reality. Since this workshop was not possible, we readjusted our proposal accordingly.

Caroline Naphegyi: The health crisis means we are now used to interacting with others via digital tools. We all feel the lack of physical contact with our friends, colleagues, the lack of interaction with the city, its lively streets, its shops and its cultural venues. This is why we sent everyday objects to about sixty French and Portuguese people, along with a short text and a few questions. The materiality of these objects invites us to reconsider them, to let them stimulate our imagination and awaken our memories. In return, we asked each of the participants to come up with an idea, a text, a poem, a drawing... An evocation of another reality to share with visitors to the Biennale.


The sixty or so French and Portuguese participants include doctors, priests, critics and designers: why did you choose such a range of profiles?

Sam Baron: We wanted to show that design could speak to everyone. Whether you are a doctor, a researcher, a philosopher or an architect, everyone has a relationship with design. As human beings, we are all sensitive, and we all have our own way of thinking and reacting. This is what we wanted to share. To show the capacity of design as a language that brings ideas together. In a time of pandemic where human relationships are much more limited, one of the only ways left to maintain human bonds is to send something, a postcard, flowers...

Autre Monde - Porto Design Biennale 2021
© Renato Cruz Santos

The French project is called Autre: why did you choose this name?

Sam Baron: In Portugal, we are guests, we are the "other". And we have in turn invited other people to take part, who are "others" for us. The "other" is a stranger and at the same time, one who is different, who brings a difference. The "Other" is a different reality. Something that is different, something that we are not necessarily used to, that brings discovery. The word can be read in various ways, although it is quite simple. In five letters, it manages to be extremely generous and open.

Caroline Naphegyi: Autre is an alternative response to Alter (from alter-realities) presented in several forms, connected both to the contributions from the guests who received the exquisite corpse, and to the partnerships we have in Porto with the Soares dos Reis Museum, Radio Estação and JCDecaux.


Why did you choose to work in partnership with JCDecaux?

Sam Baron: JCDecaux has always been very sensitive to design and has always worked with designers. The company also has a huge distribution capacity which is extremely democratic. You can live in the suburbs or the historic heart of Porto and there will be a JCDecaux sign in front of you. Working with them allows us to infiltrate cities in an unstoppable way. It was interesting for us, because it allows us to distribute our message: a language designed specially for the Biennale, words spoken in Radio Estação broadcasts or by people who received the box that will be broadcast during the Biennale. We don't advertise, but we do use their great capacity for distribution.

Autre - Porto Design biennale 2021
© Renato Cruz Santos

What do you want to say about design with this French presentation? 

Caroline Naphegyi: We wanted to go beyond the traditional framework of exhibitions and reach an audience not so familiar with design. Radio Estação, for example, is an experimental radio station designed by the team from Porto's municipal museums. Thanks to the Institut français and more particularly to Silvia Balea, cultural attaché in Lisbon, we have secured a partnership with RFI and Radio Alfa. Every week during the Biennale, we invite different personalities to tell us about their own alter-realities: the philosophers Fabienne Brugère and Emanuele Coccia, political scientist Sébastien Thiéry, the designer André Cruz, curator and trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort and the entrepreneur Emmanuel Druon. RFI's Portuguese journalists Miguel Martins and Liliana Henriques have summarised each of the interviews with an article in Portuguese.

Sam Baron: Design is an essential practice for the future and must, in my opinion, become more integrated into society. In the past, design could be considered as an approach to beauty and the decorative arts. These days I think it is interesting to see that design goes further. It's not just about formalising things, but about how we put ideas and thoughts into place, how we can think in different ways, together.


Could it be said that this project finds its raison d'être in this time of pandemic? 

Caroline Naphegyi: The pandemic has had a positive impact on our way of working. I say positive because it has forced us to reinvent ourselves as curators. Beyond our presentation, a Biennale is above all a megaphone that carries a message further, however it is expressed: an exhibition, a speech on the radio, or any number of opportunities to suggest alternative actions and visions to the world we live in. The pandemic made us take stock and realise the consumerist world is one of the main causes of the economic and climate crisis. It became clear there would be a before and an after. It is this aftermath, this new reality that we are talking about, the one that urgently needs to be invented. These alter-realities have also inspired Ruedi and Vera Baur to create 24 hours of discussions with designers from the four corners of the globe: "The time has come to start creating possible alternatives to this world of today, not just with our hands and bodies but with our imaginations, to invent possible futures and their applications. Design is a militant act that allows us to glimpse the possibilities of a better world. 

Autre - Porto Design Biennale 2021
© Renato Cruz Santos
L'Institut français et le projet

The programme of France, the Guest country at the Porto Design Biennale 2021, is a creation of Caroline Naphegyi et Sam Baron, in partnership with the Institut français in Portugal and the French Embassy in Portugal

Caroline Naphegyi et Sam Baron participate to the Nuit des Alter-réalités (Night of alter-realities), organised by the Civic City association on 13 and 14 July,  in partnership with the Institut français and the Institut français in Portugal. 

L'institut français, LAB