GREGOIRE ABRIAL: Slowly, but surely
GREGOIRE ABRIAL is a designer, a photographer and a bread maker. After studying math and mechanics he decided to turn his world around and began designing in his parents’ garage. Grégoire then studied industrial design in Lyon before attending Ensci – Les Ateliers in Paris. His final dissertation explored the principals of ‘slow design’ – a full version of his thesis is available in French: here. Employing this principle, he explores a variety of complementary practices that feed his creativity: designing spaces and furniture, baking bread, and taking photographs.
Originally from France, Grégoire now lives in Brooklyn, New York in a loft he designed in collaboration with Audrey Ducas.
To view more of Grégoire’s work visit: www.gregoire-abrial.net
Interview by Emeline Loric
Please share a childhood memory that had an impact on the artist you are today:
During World War II, my grandfather was captured by the Germans and made prisoner. During the five years of his captivity, he kept himself busy by reading, studying and by secretly making boxes, books and all sorts of small objects. He was using anything he could find: food cans, pieces of cloth, or small ships of wood. What he created was carefully executed and nobody, by seeing these objects, could ever tell they were made by a prisoner with almost nothing and no tools at hand.
In his cell, he spent a lot of time thinking about freedom and what would happen if, one day, he and his country would be free again. In his dream was a house, his House. Apparently, he spent months designing and building an intricate model of it. Approximately 12in x 12in, it is an incredible piece of craftsmanship. The house has two stories and you can take off the roof to look inside. He thought of and created everything: furniture, curtains, stairs, appliances… there is even a light bulb running on a little battery that illuminates his home at night.
Unfortunately, I do not remember anything about him as he passed away when I wasn’t even one year old. But my grandmother handed down his story to me and showed me his model and other designs. I remember seeing these for the first time when I was a teenager. I was not only amazed to see how carefully crafted they were but also moved by the idea that my grandfather had made them with his own hands. He may not be around anymore but these objects still carry memories of him. Now, every time I look at them, it makes me realize that you don’t need much to create and dream. My grandmother believes that I have, in me, some of his talent and faith in creating things. Just thinking of this, really, makes me happy and inspires me.
Is there a particular place where you feel the most creative?
With no hesitation, my home, in Brooklyn! It somehow feels like a peaceful refuge. During the week, I would spend everyday in Manhattan on my day job at Amy Lau Design, in the office or running around between meetings. Every night, every weekend, going home feels like retiring from this wild agitation. The building I live in is pretty far from the subway, in the Hasidic neighborhood of South Williamsburg, on Kent Avenue. It’s pretty quiet – gentrification, tattoos and ukuleles haven’t changed this neighborhood yet. The loft I live in is on the 11th floor, with a wall of windows opening onto a terrace. From there, I can see the whole island of Manhattan unwrapping on the other side of the East River, with the Williamsburg bridge stepping over it. It feels so peaceful to see it from up there, with a distance. But, at the same time, it is both comforting and energizing to see that the City is right there, below, and all around.
Tell us a bit about ‘slow’ and its impact on your creative process:
Maybe I’ll try to explain with an example. You know, like most of us, I love making lists. When the day starts, I list all of the things I have to do that day. I usually improvise my schedule around it and try to get everything done. But if I don’t, if I’m out of time, if it’s taking longer than expected, or if I just decide for any reason to stop doing, making, working, I just… stop – and that’s ok! At the end of the day, when I look at the list and see all the things I haven’t done, instead of blaming myself, I think: That was a good day. I’m free. I am not trying to say that being slow is being lazy. Being slow is more about being confident that things will happen and that we should let them take the time they require to develop in the best way possible. It’s alright if a project takes longer, if it needs it. Because at the end, if the result counts, the way you went through it is also extremely valuable. I believe that your personal experience of the process and what you put in it will be seen and felt in the product.
Making bread is one of your favorite crafts. How does the process of making one of the most basic, yet complex foods enrich your other creative activities?
Making bread helps me slow down, take a break and connect with some of the most essential things in life: food, time, handwork and tradition. It’s almost like a meditative process. It gives my day a rhythm, from the morning kneading to the afternoon baking, through the fermentation stage. Even though I always follow the same recipe, use the same basic ingredients, make the same moves… at the end, it’s always a surprise. The texture. The crust. The taste. I love seeing the unexpected coming out of a yet well-defined and structured process. It’s magic. I wish objects could be made that way, and have their own personality.
I also like the social aspect of bread. In essence, isn’t it made to be shared? When I bake, I usually bake several loaves, sometimes 16 in a day. I then put a sign in the elevator that says “today – fresh bread and granola – come to the 11th floor to get your own”. At the end of the day, when my whole floor is permeated with the smell of fresh bread, my neighbors will knock on my door to get their goods. That interaction – this act of sharing the pleasure of food – is another reason why I bake.
What is your current obsession?
New York is a tough city to live in, but nonetheless one of the most inspiring. It’s tough, because it never stops. And it’s inspiring, actually, quite for the same reason. Here, everything is possible. Anyone can become anything. Rich. Famous. Eventually, happy. You know, “if you can make it here…” For me, New York is not a destination but more of a step towards something else. It’s a learning step, a growing transition. But it took me a while to see it that way. The first few years that I lived here, I was literally obsessed about the future. I had gazillions of questions in my brain, like: what will happen next? Who do I want to become? Will I succeed? In what kind of business? Will I really be a designer? Happy? Should I stay here? Go back? Where, for what? At some point, I had these quasi constant headaches and couldn’t sleep at night. This had a profound impact on my personal life and feelings. I had a mental breakdown.
Eventually, I slowly realized that as tough as New York can be, it certainly is the best place to work on yourself. Everything on Earth is available here. You can find the healthiest things to do, eat or experience, and also the trashiest ones. That’s why the City happens to be this merciless place where the body and the mind can develop in any direction – either better or worse. It’s up to you. If you decide to take a walk on the brighter side, you will discover a boundless source of inspiration. Over the years, things like cooking, meditation, yoga and spiritual search helped me re-connect with myself. Today, I let go of my obsessions and only have one focus: the present.
Published: March 26th, 2013