Curated by Alexandra Fau, “The Tyranny of Objects” encourages visitors to take a different look at the objects that surround them, which may reveal an unsuspected strength of character. Appliances that seemed predictably meek and pliable are now hell-bent on foiling our every plan.

Artists (Alexandre Singh, Didier Faustino,Noam Toran, Julie Bena, Wesley Meuris, Haegue Yang…) and designers (Serge Mouille, Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Jurgen Bey, Dunne & Raby…) find themselves imagining indomitable objects that cast a critical light on our rational, constraining or downright authoritarian production patterns. David Dubois’ scenography underlines this shifting power relation between objects and their owners.

Having become intelligent and endowed with speech, these objects draw from a wide array of fields, such as philosophy, architecture and animation, for a combination of light-hearted fun and serious critique. Having spent so much time in the presence of humans, objects have developed the ability to mimic us. Now they are truly coming into their own, fomenting a soft rebellion against the dictates of comfort, good taste and functionality.

The idea for this exhibition had its origins in a rather disturbing personal experience. As I was paying a visit to the designer Roger Tallon, to discuss a project for a book on the history of the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs. I was intrigued by the many faucets in his bathroom and could not help but fiddle with them. Curiosity, alas, killed the cat: as I turned one of the handles, a jet of water doused the large mirror nearby. How could I possibly have made such a faux-pas in this temple of style created by the pope of industrial design? It seemed all the objects in the room had suddenly turned on me. This anecdote forms the opening scene of this exhibition, where objects take center stage, tell their story and steal man’s thunder.

The exhibition reenacts the power game between man and the machine. Who is more controlling? Who obeys whom? Works by several artists and designers explore this relationship of interdependence and subjugation.

Once (em)powered, these living objects are capable of upsetting our lives by revealing intimate, confidential information about us when we least expect it.

The “boomerang effect” described by Vilém Flusser in his collected essays Petite Philosophie du Design (2002) is thus fully brought to bear, with incalculable consequences.

Yet when one considers how fast fiction is now outpacing reality, tensions are bound to soon arise from those conflicting agendas.

So do not be fooled by its harmless appearance! The object has become a major player in its own right, sharing its user’s diseases and neuroses, having perhaps become all too human through constant interaction with us. The visitor may choose to view this quaint theater of things as an artistic exercise in transfiguring the commonplace, but then the exhibition turns the tables on him. What if it is not the objects that are crowding up the planet, but the people? The story, then, may well have a very different ending…

The exhibition features mischievous objects that seem to do as they please. Under the pretext of interaction, the Sella Seat(1)(1957-1983) by Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni uses the roly-poly principle for throwing out its user. Another form of dictatorship is explored by Giulio Iacchetti and Chiara Moreschi: ready-to-assemble objects. For the Rofast(2) project, Iacchetti and Moreschi have redesigned Ikea’s Frosta stool. The resulting piece is a direct quote from the original, in both shape and name, with added distorsions that poke fun at the not-so-clear instructions and extra elements found in the packaging.

Even objects that are easily apprehended tend to reveal a system of constraints on a larger scale, by creating “living systems”. Wesley Meuris deciphers this phenomenon in his large-scale models of generic architecture. Similarly, Tatiana Trouvé defines her Polders as “territory reclaimed from reality” while Noam Toran finds examples of artifacts from the world of cinema that have found their way into real life. As had been the case with his Obsolete Machine No.1 (2007), which was displayed in Galeries Lafayette’s windows, Toran shares his vision of a production system riddled with constraints to the point of absurdity.

As for Philippe Ramette, he uses what he calls “scenario objects” and prosthetics to adopt rather uncomfortable or even goofy postures. In À Contre- Courant (Hommage à Buster Keaton, utilisation) (3) (2008), the artist, propped on a steel bar, stubbornly fights the headwind generated by a powerful fan. Though we know this is a losing battle, human action still manages to retain its nobility and heroism in the face of this challenge.