In this interview, Mathilde Roman discusses how saying no can be as important as saying yes.
I like to start interviews by asking where people see themselves. So, what stage in your artistic career do you consider yourself?
This isn’t an easy one. I think it's growing up! I'm happy with my own artistic research; the BIN (Belgisch Instituut voor Normalisatie) was a really great first step to start up and experiment. I then had the opportunity to continue [my] project in the summer of 2016 in another setting (setting up a relaxing area in the city of Namur), and it will continue next year, maybe [at] a festival or during workshops with kids. I also work with [children] and really like it. I [developed these two domains], design and teaching, simultaneously. I need the teaching to pay my rent, and they can work together! A big part of my life is about research and organization. I don't know if it's really the answer that you are expecting. You can see part of my work on my website.
No, that's great. Let’s talk about BIN. That's actually how we met—you were one of the artists there. Can you explain a bit about what BIN is and what that did for you to be a part of it—why was it a “great first step?” Actually, let's back up. Let's properly introduce you. You're Mathilde, a French designer living in Belgium and being awesome. Did I miss anything?
Yes, that's [it], I'm an amazing French designer living in [Brussels]. I studied furniture design in Paris, in l'École Boulle, principally. My diploma project was about a youth hostel built with scaffolding and textile. It was just the beginning of my own artistic research in 2011. BIN was the first place where I could experiment for real and find a way to submit my project to different kinds of clients and applications. That was in 2015, four years later! For me, BIN was the place to experiment [with] everything I wanted without fear. [It provided] my first studio to work with the help of Lodewijk to find materials and my first client, and the help of Theo, Ali, Gaelle, and you to build, experiment, and support.
You finished your degree in 2011, but being one of the artists for BIN didn't happen until 2015. What [were] you doing those four years?
I finished my degree [at the] École Boulle in 2011, but continued my studies [for] one year to obtain a Master’s degree in ENSAAMA Olivier de Serres (because Master’s degrees are recognized all over Europe, unlike my previous degree). I had a six-month internship during this last year in a school furniture company. This integrated design experience in an industrial company gave me access to a system core. [Incorporating] a structure [that] produces for communities is in the continuity of my research. I was able to assimilate the reality of constraints to industrial production [and] the importance of the manufacturing process, as well as the market’s very strict demands.
Both intern and designer, I received special attention from the team around me and had an ideal posture to study the company. My curiosity often focused on technical issues concerning manufacturing processes and optimization of industrialization, but also on strategic positioning, in terms of response to a need and similar product marketing. I tried to understand the workings of an organization to define my place and assess the potential and my work. After this experience, I decided to never work in a big industrial company, because I wanted to stay creative.
I got my master's degree in 2012. Then I looked for a job during some months and found a guy to work with in [Brussels]. I really wanted to leave Paris; I was [searching for] jobs everywhere else. I worked for this guy [for] one year. He was calling it a collaboration, but it was more me working [on] his projects. It was a bad experience and I didn't earn any money. So, I started to work in animation with kids during summer [of] 2014 and I never stopped. (I did stop working with that guy.) During [the past three] years, I also developed furniture and objects: projects in collaboration with my friend, Pauline Andrus, who's living in Paris. We received some [commissions], and we just [sold] one of our projects this year!
We met in 2015. I came to Belgium to basically hang out with Theo and be a part of BIN, which was a nonprofit arts organization in its infancy, and you were dating Theo (still are), so that's how you got involved with BIN. Can you better explain what you did while you were with BIN?
When I discovered BIN, I thought, “Wow, it's big, cold, and dirty: a place to try everything we want. But it won't be easy to warm up this place.” The first thing I built was the chicken palace with Theo. We really wanted to build stuff together. I don't have money [and] I hate to dump things, [so] it was a good opportunity to build something with free materials and our own constraints—just for fun, not really professional. The whole chicken palace was built with found materials, down to the last nail.
Because [of] Theo, I often came to BIN and followed its growth. I wanted to experiment [with] my diploma project [for] a long time. Up until then, it had only ever been on paper. I'm not sure I remember exactly, but I think that Theo told me I could ask Lodewijk if he [knew of] people renting scaffolding structure. Because it was a "standard" base to work with, it was in the BIN spirit to experiment [with] it here. And boom! Hendrick's Feesten (an experimental pop-up restaurant) was interested, materials were free, and it was the beginning of this project's real evolution.
Last question, I promise: what are you doing now?
I'm looking for new opportunities to develop my textile and structure research: festivals, installations, residency in different cities or in schools, workshops, organization with kids and adults, etc. I have my job with kids (circus, handicraft, and art lessons) and a job for a brand [that] needs me for graphic design, technical documents, and products creation soon, [which is] one day a week. One of my creations is also being exhibited for two months with RecyclArt. [I’ve also] worked on a method to learn music and piano with my aunt [in the course of a] year and half and it will be published in France soon. :)
Mathilde Roman is an industrial designer who graduated with an MFA from the Ecoles Boulle et Olivier de Serres in Paris. Currently living in Belgium, Mathilde focuses on collaborative projects with community engagement components.