Leave room for imagination about and in the work practices of the future

Olivier Peyricot

Scientific Director of the Biennale and Director of the Research Department at the Cité du design

You are Scientific Director of the Biennale, and you are also Research director at the Cité du design - how do these dual responsibilities sit with each other?

The Working Promesse Biennale is designed partly as a research programme. We have set out to investigate, we have put out hypotheses, and we will be conducting experimentations that together will give this Biennale its shape. The challenges lie on the theoretical side, in particular when it comes to thinking up a societal project around the issue of work which design can contribute to shaping.
Otherwise, the Biennale is following on in the same vein from previous editions: it has variety and versatility in its IN and OFF programmes, in its spread across the entire district and beyond, its events, its international component, its platforms for businesses and other encounters.
Olivier Peyricot
Why did you choose the "shifting work paradigms" theme for this 10th edition of the Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Etienne?

This theme was born out of a joint reflection by the teams at the Cité du design: after a Biennale devoted to beauty, with an external scientific director, we were looking to take back control of the thinking about design within our own activities. Now, the idea of working together raised many questions: how could we collaborate? how could we share a project? how would that influence our lives? our hopes in our work? our desires, our plans? In short, like the whole country, we found ourselves confronted with a paradox: on the one hand, we thought we were looking for forms of work that would be more pleasant, more intelligent, made easier by new technologies, and yet on the other, incredibly strong social tensions contradict that view: work well and truly is shifting. In addition to that, there was our singular idea about design: that it should question society on its choices - it is the role of the Cité du design as a centre for research and avant-garde innovation to raise these issues.
What are the links between this theme and design?

Design is a tool for shaping modernity. Now, as it happens, we are in the process of leaving behind the comfort of modernity for a period of major instability, which will challenge the model of society in which we have built a part of our lives. Work, with its internal contradictions, is symptomatic of this shift. Design is also changing: it is moving on from illustrating modernity by designing beautiful objects to a service design, a critical design or a social design. The extension of the territories it occupies (which previous Biennales of Saint-Etienne have sometimes heralded, sometimes echoed) reveals a design breaking with its fundamentals (objects), but more and more powerful as a tool of social and political development: it was inevitable that work and a changing design would collide.
What areas of this wide-ranging theme are you most particularly interested in examining, and why?

We are only examining one part of the issues around work, so vast and complex is the subject. But faced with this constraint of it being materially impossible to be exhaustive, we have chosen two key symptoms: digital labor and a new organisation of work through the existence of third places. The way in will be through digital labor, which represents the arrival of digital technology in our daily lives and which is completely reorganising work in terms of time and space, but also in terms of contractualisation and incomes. This leads to an experiment on third places (Fablab, co-working place, hacker-space), which will provide pointers towards new ways of working liable to reinvent a whole area of the organisation of work in our society. These two central approaches will be linked in with related issues such as the question of know-how in jobs, processes, hiring, the body in work, production cycles, automation, the office, etc.
Finally to leave room for imagination about and in the work practices of the future, we will see how science fiction authors and designers seize upon the theme and put it into perspective, critically or otherwise.
How did you work with the curators of the exhibitions that you have brought together for this event?

The collaboration with the curators was based on exchanges at close range: the aim was to establish a solid dialogue and debate their choices, confronting them with our theoretical approaches (a job we did before we met them). Certain curators put together proposals that are at odds with our arguments, other developed our intuitions. All of which therefore gives a range of points of view that are varied, critical, contradictory, but which correspond to the role of a Biennale, i.e. they constitute a panorama at a given moment of an issue that runs through society and in which design plays a role.