The common stove
With more than 58,5% of its territory covered by woods , Slovenia is one of the most forested countries in Europe. Conserving rurality there is a major environmental, cultural and social issue. Tackling this problem the design biennale BIO 25: FARAWAY, SO CLOSE - curated by Angela Rui and Maja Vardjan - presents a series of site-specific interventions and exhibitions that look at the ambivalence between local and global. Among the projects developed - all visible until October 29th 2017 - is the Common Stove, a platform for conviviality and togetherness imagined by French designer matali crasset. We caught up with crasset via Skype, to find out more about it.
The forest - a forgotten common good
Nestled amidst the large forests of southern Slovenia, the city of Kočevje has a long forestry past. Yet, despite this deep geographical and historical connection, since the end of the World War II “the forest has slowly lost its meaning as most of the wood factories which used to employ many locals closed down”, explains the matali crasset.
Because of the need to reactivate the link between the locals and the woods - for cultural and economic reasons - crasset was invited to help “recreating the communal life that once existed in relation to this natural feature”.
Reviving domestic rituals
Backed by local organisations that work to reclaim the forest, and by all the existing communities of trekking enthusiasts, hunters and mushrooms pickers, the designer proposed “to revivify old rituals - such as the popular dancings that used to take place on the edge of the forest - and at the same time to stimulate the birth of new ones”.
Exploring domestic rituals is one of crasset's trademarks, and at Kočevje she looked into the reassuring comfort of local homes to find the object that could become a new common landmark and facilitate the reappropriation process of the forest while providing people “with a place to sit and gather”. This is how she came across the “Kachelofen”, a highly efficient clay stove covered with refractory ceramics.
Widely spread across Eastern Europe, this typology of stove offers large cubical volumes - like a small scale architecture - “around which the domestic life gravitates”, as underlines crasset. “People come and sit close to it to keep warm”, she continues, “and some also feature tiers to sit on and even long seats to lie on!”. “So I decided to take over this domestic icon” with the hope to recreate “the same complicity that the stove allows within the family circle, but outside”. The Common Stove will in fact “produce heat but at the same time it will enable people to cook something - for instance bread - and share something warm”.
“I started working on a U shape [because] unlike what the “Kachelofen” typology allows - which is to be around the stove - I wanted people to come inside”, thus creating what French curator Alexandra Midal referred to as a “space-stove” .
A stove at the service of the inhabitants
With open arms, the stove “welcomes and invites visitors to come together”, suggests crasset. This personalisation is not at all innocent. In fact, to develop this structure, the designer was inspired by the Golem - a mythological creature that inhabits the collective imaginary of Jewish communities (and beyond) . According to the popular belief, the Golem was shaped in clay by human hands to assist and protect the inhabitants, the same supportive role that the common stove shall play for the community of Kočevje.
The need for deep and strong ramifications
“At Kočevje people had never participated in this kind of projects. The fact that the impulsion came from a cultural institution from the capital helped a lot, as the inhabitants were both surprised and flattered for their city to be part of the BIO 25’s programme”, says matali crasset. Yet, the designer’s work on-site was also facilitated by the fact that “there was a local organisation which had already developed strong bonds with the locals and raised awareness. So that people not only had faith in the project but were also willing to participate.”
Working closely with local communities, organisations, craftsmen as well as other creatives is a fundamental aspect of what matali crasset refers to as her “singular tendency of questioning the established codes”. In fact, “it is impossible to parachute this kind of logics [that intend to activate local communities] in an infertile ground”, she explains. “To get positive responses - and above all to gain the trust of a community - it is vital to identify the people who will support you and then take over the project. This approach necessitates deep ramifications that can be obtained only thanks to a long upstreamed preparation. This is why the role of local organisations is fundamental”.
Finding their way back to the forest, the inhabitants will now need to learn to trust their Golem - which will remain at their disposal forever and that will allow new customs to blossom. Once claimed as their own, the stove shall be a good starting point for the inhabitants to turn again into dynamic actors in their own territory.
All images courtesy of matali crasset © BIO 25
 http://www.zgs.si/eng/slovenian-forests/forests-in-slovenia/forestation-and-variety-of-forests/index.html ;  Words by curator Alexandra Midal;  More information about the Golem (in French): Elisabeth Franck-Dumas, "Golem mon Précieux", Libération, March 19th, 2017; Hubert Boët, "Golem, ce que les mythes sèment", FastNCurious, April 21st, 2017;
For more information about the project, visit the Occupying The Woods web platform
#Interviews #InCommonFacilities #matalicrasset #CommonStove #design #Rurality #bio25 #DesignBiennial #Slovenia