Roger Tallon, Total Design
By way of introduction, some of the things Roger Tallon calls himself are designer, planner, researcher, and object draughtsman. We should not read hesitation or presumption into these words, but rather the mobility of a comprehensive mind that is outstretched towards the discovery of right forms resulting from an analysis of the functions peculiar to the projects on which Roger Tallon has been prompted to work for the past 50 years. Among the best-known, we might mention: the Corail train, the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse/Highspeed Train), the Météor, and the Montmartre funicular railway. In all these works he has managed to develop his "total design" concept, engaged as he is in an on-going struggle against the "design deficiency" of both contemporary industry and contemporary society.
Back in the 1950s, Roger Tallon hobnobbed with the artistic avant-garde. He worked with Yves Klein, for example, in particular on the air architecture projects. Friendships and joint projects such as this gave rise, for Tallon, to a fondness for utopia and challenges, and to a keen desire to think an environment through from A to Z, and top to bottom. When you take the TGV it is not merely to travel from Paris to Lyons. It is above all to enjoy a two-hour experience of dynamics, all the way from design to form, by appropriating an open structure which enables all and sundry to also become designers themselves.
So dynamism is the predominant feature of design as conceived by Roger Tallon. What is involved, first and foremost, is endowing movements and journeys with meaning (his major projects have all been vehicles... read: design as vector), but also, and even more so, with shifting borders and boundaries, not earmarking objects with delimitations, and seeing them from all their different angles, so as to go beyond the appearances of contradictions. In this quest for the diffuse, Tallon has reached a point where the object and its functions are dissolved, by, for example, creating the "module" concept. This is a revolution which replaces the brusque, male idea of the finished and finite with the values of femininity, jigsaw puzzles, and the collective. The various elements are combined in sets which are always prone to transformations, sets for a design that is to be lived and experienced.
The pieces on view in our exhibition bear the threefold mark of the "Tallon system": a spirit of invention and freedom; permanent unfinishedness; and the logic of flows.
The spiral staircase (1964), with its petal-shaped steps, reinstates, like no other, the breakdown of the revolving motion of the helix. Its aeronautical qualities thus make reference to Marrey and Muybridge, with an elliptical visual economy which does not rule out variety. Its elegant void/solid dialectic is akin to some of Buren's installations, for example.
The "Module 400" (1965) was designed for the conversion of a nightclub. The premises, which were located in an old garage, were meant to conjure up a stretch of motorway. Tallon criss-crossed the floor with 400 x 400 mm/16 x 16 inch metal tiles, somewhat slab-like. The idea and the form call to mind the sculpture being produced by Carl Andre in that same period. Depending on the number of people, sone of these floor tiles could be replaced by tables and chairs with same-sized bases made of the same metal.
The "Wimpy" chair (1960) is a collapsible seat that comes across as a tribute to Eames. Its arithmetical formula is 4-2-4: four legs in cast aluminium, two similar shell-like forms made of moulded wood for the seat itself and the back, in turn held together by four assembly screws.
The "Le Taon" (Horsefly) motorbike, dated 1956. This vehicle combines notions of movement and travel, speed, and the incorporation of various parts in a single line. The name refers to the buzzing of the engine, at the same time as it forms an abbreviation of its author's name--a kind of Tallon without wings (ailes in French, thus without the two ells). It represents a remote foreshadowing of the TGV, designed as it is like an airplane reduced to just its fuselage.
This naming technique crops up again in the "Zombie" seat (1967), in a more visual and figurative form. What is essentially involved here is getting the human body to sit down on a form which is itself body-like. These weird yellow plastic ghosts suggest something akin to an extreme state for furniture, reduced here to its purely spiritual condition of "protoform", another keyword in the Tallon system.
As far as crockery is concerned, this comes under the general name of "3T"--the "3" standing for (table-)settings, crockery and glasses, the "T" for "Table"--as well as for Tallon. With its rounded forms, the "3T" design illustrates another idea, which has been crucial to his work from the word go: the idea of turn, to be understood in all its various meanings.
The show attests not only to the coherence that exists in Roger Tallon's work, but also to what we might call its duplication. The works themselves cannot be separated from a far-reaching line of critical thinking about the conditions and the very nature of design, which is the privilege and prerogative of great artists alone.