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[Interview Highlights] Astrid Hauton, designer, Paris, France

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The reason why I wanted to meet Astrid is because she values international collaborations in her design practice. So far, she collaborated with Vietnamese and Japanese craftspeople – which makes her experience highly relevant to The Dorayaki Project! Astrid shared about innovation, social and creative responsibilities of a designer. 

 

As a designer…

In addition to being an independent designer, Astrid is also a workshop facilitator. She helps people handling tools and making their project come true: “my mission combines two sides that are of paramount importance to me: an emphasis on interpersonal relationships as well as an exploration of processes”. Astrid solidly believes in this human factor and values meeting new people. “Many of the projects I have done are collaborations and often they take place with people who are not designers themselves”. She therefore celebrates interdisciplinary projects. “As a designer, I cannot be a loner and I need people to achieve my projects. I really get my inspiration from people”. Astrid also tries to design smartly while conserving resources, using what is available in a given environment – she calls it “economy of means”.

Creating impact is also important for Astrid. However, society may not be acknowledging the importance of creative jobs: “when you go for a creative career, you do create high added value but you are not paid enough for that in return”.

 

What is your definition of craftsmanship?

It is about people, culture and know-how. Most importantly, they can make a living out of it. “It is about being a professional, about creating an expertise based on making something”.

 

On interdisciplinary collaborations

There are so many benefits of getting involved in interdisciplinary projects. “It is about creating the space for people to develop new skills, to experiment different ways of seeing, of testing, of working together”. It is about empowering people.

Collaborations have their challenges, too! “You need to look for someone who is ready to… collaborate – willing to test new things, being open-minded, etc”. Because craftsmanship is about mastering a know-how and specific gestures, it is sometimes hard for craftspeople to change their habits and picture a way of doing things differently.

Astrid tells the story of a collaboration project she carried out in Vietnam. When meeting with a bird cage maker, she offered to change the shape of the bird cage and turn it into a lampshade. The craftsperson felt skeptical and told her “do you understand that if you open this shape, the bird will fly away?”. As a designer, the challenge is to make clear that you want to change not only the shape but also the function of a given object. From a human and professional standpoint, the idea is to find a way of working together, starting from each person’s specific set of skills – in that case, the ability for the craftsperson to produce various shapes from bamboo.

How can you make sure that a craftsperson will be ready for change? “When showing them sketches on the first meeting, I could just feel whether they would be open to new possibilities or not”.

What Astrid brings to these collaborations, both as designer and as a foreigner, is a different view on the world and different skills: “I am different, that should be an asset!”

 

On Japan

Astrid took part in Kyoto Contemporary program with Les Ateliers de Paris. This program plans collaboration between designers from Paris and craftspeople from Kyoto. That is how Astrid spent three weeks in Japan. When I asked her about what she recalls from Japan, she says “peacefulness, zen and excellence of know-how”

 

Vision of excellence

« Excellence… It means, paying a lot of attention to details, but it is also… quality, always looking for a high-quality result, process or interpersonal relationship with people I collaborate with”.

 

On the importance of testing and prototyping

When starting to work on a new project, Astrid does not know what the final result will look like – and that is exactly what feels exciting to her. It is really important to go through a series of trials and errors to keep the project alive and nurtured with inspirations. “If am I am given a blank page, I am not sure if I am so interested into drawing random shapes from scratch”. Many solutions can be found when prototyping at an early stage.

 

On Kyoto Contemporary

When collaborating with a Japanese craftsman, Astrid stayed true to herself and went beyond the boundaries of her design practice, especially with innovation in the process or in the shaping. In the future, she wants to “find new opportunities” in which she can “use [her] design approach with other kinds of know-how, other companies, other craftspeople communities”- the cool thing about innovating in the process being that it opens a way broader set of possibilities. Astrid was proud to share her feedback about this collaboration experience during a conference held at Maison & Objets fair in January 2018 in Paris. This opportunity is consistent with her will to share her experience with others and tell the stories behind the objects she makes.

 

Many thanks Astrid ! 

Check out Astrid’s work at http://astridhauton.com/

[Conversation Highlights] Fumie Sato, Yanagiu washi craftswoman, Sendai, Japan

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There is a season for everything and washi paper follows the rule. In winter, the weather is suitable for washi making whereas in summer, Sato-san changes job and turns into a farmer. When I visited the workshop a couple of weeks ago, it was already too hot to make washi, so I could not witness the whole washi-making process. However, I was invited to come back during next winter. What a great time I had with Sato-san and her family! Besides giving me a couple of hours of her time and sharing her story, adorable ninety-year-old Sato-san also tried to evaluate the possibilities of me marrying a Japanese man and treated the interpreter and I with nice dishes and drinks. Overall, it was more like a casual conversation rather than a formal research interview, as I usually carry out. Anyway, some interesting insights were brought up by Sato-san during our conversation, so I will share them in this article!

“Washi” is Japanese paper made by hand, piece by piece. There are various kind of washi, light to strong, white to brown, rough to soft-touch but all of them are part of Japanese traditional know-how. Yanagiu washi is of far superior quality and costs more than twice the price of factory-produced paper. Nowadays, people are more likely to buy cheap and mass-produced paper. All the other Yanagiu washi producers went bankrupt and this very workshop is the last one of its kind. Why did this company made it year after year, in spite of challenging economic background? “Because it was the biggest one in the area!”. As a result, “we get all the orders and we are busy all year around”. Sato-san is faced with all the responsibilities towards customers and passion for her craft: “I cannot die!”, she acknowledges.

Business-to-consumer is the business model, meaning that Sato-san does not sell the washi she produces to shops and retailers but instead customers come straight to this location to buy some. The beautiful house with adjoining workshop and garden makes it worth the experience of paying a visit.

On transmission and learning

What kind of tasks can be done by students or volunteers who come for one day at Sato-san’s workshop? Unfortunately, there is nothing they can be helpful with. Every gesture requires time and practice before they can be mastered. However, Sato-san welcomes local or international groups of students and helps them getting an experience of Yanagiu washi. The next guests will learn how to make postcards for instance. On the top of that, Yanagiu washi company members teach and share their experience of craftsmanship with children in schools.

Sato-san was not a washi-paper craftswoman from the beginning. When she was around forty, Sato-san started by helping her parents-in-law with their business “My parents-in-law were aging, so I gave them a hand. I tried, I imitated their gestures, I trained”… and finally mastered washi.

Both tradition and experimentation as a mindset

Not only is washi hand-made but it is also hand-dyed. Sato-san loves experimenting with techniques and pigments. She used onions and even soot to make colorful paper. “I thought the paper would turn out black when using the soot and actually it came out green!”

This positive, energetic and playful mindsets seems to be key to a long and rich life: “my mind stays clear because I talk a lot and I work a lot, too”, Sato-san joyfully claims.

 

Many thanks, Sato-san! 

 

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