With breathless clarity and conviction, Chantal Prod’hom invited us onto her “playground” – the term she uses to describe her creative realm. Guiding us through the mudac, the contemporary design museum she’s directed and curated for nearly twenty years, she recounted the paradoxes, the quandaries, and the questions that have inspired the vast number of exhibits hosted here. The use of camouflage in fashion; the return of nature into industrial design; the role that dogs and cats play in our society; the design and production of guns – to name just a few. Indeed, when a museum hosts up to seven unique exhibits a year, the questioning never stops.
Exuberant and probing, her eyes tell us within minutes that we’ve met someone who takes great pleasure in her work and who might possibly have the most interesting job in the city.
It starts with an observation. A curiosity. A “why?” It can come from a TV series, a magazine image, a conversation.
From there, the real fun begins. How to explore, challenge, delve into an idea using art and design as vehicles for understanding? How to marry the work of artists and designers in such a way that gives a richer look at a single idea, its layers and complexities, all while appreciating the distinctions between the two disciplines?
Since its evolution from a decorative art museum to a museum of contemporary design in 2000, the mudac has existed to hold a mirror up to our society and the way that we live. With the exception of its permanent decorative glass collection, they’re not in the business of acquiring objects. Instead, Chantal and her team of four curators work by theme, exploring questions without easy answers and then searching for the best contemporary art and design work from around the world to bring their reflection to life.
Because designers are primarily interested in the use of an object, Chantal explained, design is an intrinsically human-centered discipline. By extension, she and her team work to create exhibits that speak to the way that we live and work today. And rather than simply tell or show, visitors are invited to interact and join into their reflection with multi-sensorial and surprising displays.
After one visit, you’ll understand why Chantal describes her work as play – clever, provoking, and even humorous, the mudac is an unconventional museum that challenges our assumptions about the world we often-thoughtlessly move through each day and invites us to reflect on our human experience, whether that be as citizens, consumers, or simply as individuals.
Ever the creator, Chantal sits at the center of the Plateforme10 museum district project as the president of its board of directors. Together with the leaders of the Musée de Beaux Arts and the Musée de l’Elysée, she’s helping to re-envision the way that we experience art in Lausanne and beyond.
With its 180 million franc budget and stunning architectural plans, there’s no other current cultural investment in Europe to match its scale. The first phase of the district is set to open this fall and the second phase, which includes the mudac, will follow in 2021. If Chantal’s enthusiasm is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to.
As we said our goodbyes, Chantal’s eyes landed on an altogether banal object – the smartphone attachment on the handlebar of my baby stroller. “Now that’s interesting,” she exclaimed, looking it over. I could see the wheels turning in her head. This simple thing that I use every day without much thought is pregnant with potential. Its unremarkable purpose – keeping my screen ever in sight so I don’t miss a text message or a chance to feel indignant about whatever the New York Times tells me Donald Trump is up to – presents so many questions about my modern life.
Indeed everything we use has been designed. And everything designed is an object of interest at the mudac, a toy on Chantal’s metaphorical playground. Through this play, she helps us to learn more about ourselves and our world.
Photography by the talented Jagoda Wisniewska.