As an active Director of Alliance Française in Singapore, tell us about the ICONIC! Exhibition staged this November at Alliance Française, how was the concept of the exhibition nurtured?
Since we created the French Excellence programme last year, to share more about French cultural heritage with all communities and highlight France’s unique know-how through exhibitions, talks, screenings, workshops etc., ICONIC! was always in our mind. An exhibition to spotlight the “Made in France” was definitely a must, and we took the time to fine-tune the concept and to involve as many prestigious partners to come on board.
ICONIC!’s ambition is to illustrate how French creativity has changed how we live, work and play in many areas. In this brainwork, the scenography concept was an epiphany. What better way to express the everyday revolution of these inventions than to include them in a pop-up private apartment decorated with French designer pieces from Akar de Nissim and Christian Liaigre, which showed how they changed our daily life? The visitor is then invited to identify those iconic artefacts displayed in this unique set-up.
There are over 50 French creations exhibited, tell us more about the selection process?
The main guideline was to highlight 50 inventions that changed our daily life and maybe the world, but most of the time you don’t know they are French. For sure the selection process was tough!
“Surprise” was also our main keyword while working on the items we would choose: we wanted our visitors to be startled by the artefact they were looking at. Since our opening last week, we have heard many times, “Oh! I did not know THAT was French!”
You are highlighting to all visitors the French creations in the field of technology, for instance the amazing sound system items which are on display. Is France too much regarded as a country only related to fashion, perfume and luxury and not enough as a tech creation hub?
Of course, Hermès and the Kelly bag, Guerlain and the modern perfume or lipstick, Yves Saint Laurent and the women’s trouser suit, Cadolle and the modern bra are part of this exhibition. But there is so much more to France than these essentials. Besides those luxury brands, we gave room to tech creations.
You mentioned the high-end loudspeakers with built-in amplifiers, created by Cabasse, and this exhibition also offers you to discover that the smart card, the photovoltaic panels or the gyroscope are French inventions too.
ICONIC! is a way to hammer home that France is also a land for innovation. After all, in 2022, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to a French researcher, as was Fields Medal, and Station F, the world’s biggest start-up campus created by Xavier Niel is located in France!
The iconic “Smiley” being a French creation comes as a surprise. Tell us more about this specific creation and how it has conquered the world?
The Smiley is one of the success stories we are presenting. In 1971, the journalist Franklin Loufrani designed his own Smiley as part of an anti-morosity campaign in the daily newspaper France-Soir. Before doing so, the wise journalist registered the famous logo with the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI). He named the logo “Smiley” and launched The Smiley Company to domicile his brand. In 1996, Loufrani’s son, Nicolas, took over the family business. He designed the symbol in 3D and extended the simple Smiley to hundreds of expressions. Today, The Smiley Company has around 68 million licensed products that drive US$573 million in annual sales across band partners.
What emotions do you hope the viewers experience when visiting ICONIC!?
We thought and designed this exhibition in a very playful manner, to welcome audiences of all ages, and we hope our viewers will have as much fun visiting it as we had curating it.
Above all, we hope that each visitor will bring home, through the history of each object, a bit of the French spirit that underpins our identity and cultural heritage.
How is ICONIC! Integrated into the vOilah! France Singapore Festival 2022 programme?
This year’s vOilah! France Singapore Festival is themed “Inspiration”, which led us to curate ICONIC! It’s an honour for Alliance Française to be one of vOilah! France Singapore Festival 2022 highlights. We are grateful to benefit from the support of the Embassy of France in Singapore, not only for the exhibition, but also for the French Film Festival presented by the Embassy where 32 screenings are presented in our theatre, some in the presence of award-winning actresses like Elsa Zylberstein and Ana Girardot.
You have staged several successful exhibitions at Alliance Française Singapore in 2022. What is planned across 2023?
2022 was the year of maturity for the French Excellence programme with four high points around Visual art with REWARD, architecture and history with NOTRE-DAME, gastronomy with À TABLE! #2 and currently MADE IN FRANCE, gathering thousands of visitors in total!
In 2023, apart from À TABLE! #3 which is an annual rendezvous, we will focus on new field such as transportation and fashion design. Stay tuned…
You have travelled to many countries across the globe, what is your favourite museum as of today?
I must be honest, at the risk of sounding chauvinistic, my heart goes to the Centre Pompidou, the largest museum for modern art in Europe, located in Paris, where I can treat my eyes with my favourite contemporary artists.
I am especially enthusiastic about the art retrospective they often organise, like Pierre Soulages, Louise Bourgeois or most recently David Hockney, just to name a few.
Your favourite museum in Singapore?
My preference would be the Asian Civilisation Museum, as I am passionate about Asian civilisations. I am particularly impressed by the quality of their cultural programmation, the originality of their didactic scenographies, and the modern temporary exhibitions, always anchored in their times.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and career, who would that be?
Undoubtedly my father has always been a mentor to me, and a person whom I respect and admire. He taught me that work is a treasure to cherish — a mantra that still guides me today.
Open Tuesday to Friday ( 1:00pm-7:30pm) and Saturday (9am-5:30pm), come discover more about the objects that change your life daily at ICONIC! as part of the French Excellence programme.
For more art reads, click here.
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