Constance Guisset presents "Surprise Party" in Milan

It's not the same as looking at objects on white plinths, or to take people into a story where you see the seriousness of the work, but without the need to demonstrate it.

From 18 April to 13 May 2023, Constance Guisset is presenting Surprise Party, a retrospective exhibition at the Institut français de Milan. 


Published on 04/05/2023

5 min

Constance Guisset
© Felipe Ribon

You have an unusual background, having studied at ESSEC, Sciences-Po and even in Japan, before joining the École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle. How has this impacted on your current design practice? 

Constance Guisset: I would say that it started in the foundation course, where I learned to work methodically and to organise myself. The designer's job is quite intense, it requires real versatility, you have to constantly shift from one task to another. For the rest, it's more a question of my life experiences, of my encounters, which reinforce empathy and allow me to put myself in other people's shoes, to understand political or market rationales. But to be honest, I don't think a lot about my background: these days, I am above all a designer. Perhaps it is my travels that have inspired me most of all, especially when I went to India, or Japan, where I learned Japanese. These experiences have had an influence on my vision and my aesthetic. All of this forms a breeding ground that I cultivate. You don't always know from which substrate the plant will grow, but the seeds of creativity will always grow in this very varied soil. 


As part of the 61st edition of the Milan Furniture Fair, you will be the subject of a monographic exhibition entitled Surprise Party at the Institut français de Milan from 18 April to 13 May 2023. Can you explain the title to us?

Constance Guisset: My exhibitions are always contextual. Surprise Party takes place during the Milan Fair, which is a real gathering place for all designers. So it's an opportunity to celebrate more than ten years of work and to dive straight into that atmosphere. Surprise Party is a retrospective exhibition, so it will be an opportunity for many people to discover my work. The title obviously refers to something light: I wanted to offer moments of surprise, music, light shows, lots of things to see. People often think that designers work with coloured objects, whereas in reality you find the volumetrics first, and the colours come later. So in this exhibition I also show objects in black and white, and then how the light gives them colour. So there's a lot of play in there, a lot of humour. You have to have a certain lightness in the way you look at your own work: I'm not ashamed, for example, to like disco balls. It's not the same as looking at objects on white plinths, or to take people into a story where you see the seriousness of the work, but without the need to demonstrate it. 


The title Surprise Party echoes the project Ball Theater - La fête n'est pas finie, which will be presented at the French Pavilion of the 18th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia 2023.

I think it's linked to the current situation, to the Covid crisis that we have just gone through. You know, there's that phrase: "the party's over", which can be applied to many things and shows a desire to restrict freedom, against which I of course deeply rebel. On the contrary, today there is a real desire to breathe, to celebrate. Including to celebrate the chance to exhibit, to be able to show one's work. Ecological concerns are also now pushing us to question whether it still makes sense to carry on producing. But we also realise that creation is always necessary, that it allows us to move forward. Creating is always a celebration, and it is in this sense that "the party is not over": we have not said our last word. 

Constance Guisset
Constance Guisset © Charlotte Robin
Constance Guisset

The programme evokes the world of entertainment, which you know well, since you have designed a number of sets. How would you like to develop this aspect? 

I have a great appetite for the show, for those moments when you disconnect from reality to experience a moment of grace, an ecstasy. The show allows this, sometimes it only takes a minute. It's the same with a set design: you can bring people into an atmosphere almost instantly. This is not insignificant, perhaps, since my thesis was already devoted to the notion of surprise. I have always loved magic, without realising it, until Angelin Preljocaj pointed it out to me. And interior architecture is also a show, at least that's how I treat spaces: as moments of performance. 


Will the audience also be able to interact with the objects? 

In the past, I've done several exhibitions where the public could try things out. This will be the case again. I'm thinking of an exhibition I did at the Musée Cantonal de Design et d'Arts Appliqués Contemporains, in Lausanne, where I used two rooms with the same objects, one side in black and white and the other in colour, like a mirror. The perception was totally different. This also intersects with the question of gender, since certain colours will be judged as feminine. This type of shift is very interesting. In Montpellier, at the Fabre Museum, I did another exhibition where the objects spoke to each other: they were placed next to eighteenth-century objects, and with the help of actors and light work, they were put into dialogue. In this case, choosing a male or female voice could completely change the perception of these objects. 


What vision of design do you support? How do you think objects influence our view of the world? 

It's more our perception that changes the nature of objects. If I were a man, for example, people wouldn't say that my work is feminine, as has often been the case. But as soon as you start defending delicacy and softness, out of ideology, because you think that the world could be different, through objects, you are approached from a feminine perspective. To claim a soothing space is very different, it's to ask yourself what you can do to make people feel good. And suddenly, in this kind of space, people's behaviour changes. 

L'institut français, LAB