Oct 16, 2013

The Kugler Factory in Geneva
The Junction of Art and Industry

Pascal Gautrand
The Kugler Factory in Geneva The Junction of Art and Industry

At the West end of the city of Geneva, the meeting of the Rhône and the Arve rivers forms a triangle of land known as "The Junction". It is in this eccentic neighborhood, which sits at the border between nature and the city, that the Kugler Factory stands, a former industrial complex topped with a red brick chimney once devoted to foundry. Property of the City of Geneva since 1996, this former faucet and fittings factory today shelters the ateliers of numerous artists and designers and has become an associative space, a place of creative and artistic convergence.

The factory is overseen by nine artists and designers, each managing one portion of the buildings, and proposing to their members, on a case-by-case basis, either open or individual studios. The collective spaces, exhibition galleries, a cafeteria – and even a Finnish sauna installed on the factory roof – assures a collective link and contributes to exchange between the some 180 artists, designers, photographers, printmakers, etc., who work in different wings of the building. Collectively, numerous parties and open-houses are organized to present the varied artistic activity in the spaces (exhibitions, performances, screenings, etc.) as well as to create openness and interface with the outside public.

Since 2012, jewelry designer Muriel Laurent rents one of the ateliers on the top floor of the building. Two modestly-sized rooms with windows looking out onto the roofs host a workbench, some machines, many tools, a desk, and a living corner.

"I consume local, I eat local, it's my way of life: producing my jewelry elsewhere would not be coherent." Privileging proximity in relationships, Muriel has chosen to call upon suppliers and manufacturers located in Geneva (for smelting, sanding and polishing) or in Chaux de Fonds in Jura, the cradle of the French horology (for surface treatments like physical vapor disposition – improperly called "ceramic" – or electrolysis). For more complex crimping operations, she goes to Florie Dupont who also develops her own line of jewelry and evolved in a professional network of creators who orbit around Head, Haute école d'art et de design in Geneva.

On the other hand, for Muriel, control over the provenance of precious metals is absolutely outside of her limits. Not having the minimum production quantities to justify direct purchase of metals with guaranteed traceability from suppliers, she depends entirely on sourcing structures put in place by the founders who she contracts. Recent global scandals have denounced multiple violations of environmental standards committed by mining operations, most notably the diverting of cyanide into Latin American streams. The number of companies mining precious metals who respect international environmental and social standards can be counted on one hand, and their productions are in large part preempted by luxury houses and traditional jewelers, thereby reducing access to "clean metals" for independent designers and small brands.

While Muriel works in-house to create artisanal prototypes sculpted from wax, with many finishing steps and controls, she depends on traditional large-scale industry for the casting of the pieces in different metals, solid gold or silver, and she also occasionally calls on nanotechnicians – a field which particularly interests her – whose innovations she adapts for the finishing of her jewelry.

The Kugler Factory is a worthy inheritor representing the evolution of society and modes of production. The building itself, an architectural vestige of the golden age of 20th-century industry, today lends its shell to a multitude of small ateliers. Our epoch privileges diversity, creativity and the spirit of connection over the bygone reign of standardized, serialized industrial production. A dilemma arises: is the artisan who integrates aesthetic sensibility and industrial innovation the new designer, or to the contrary, is it the industrial designer who, now more autonomous within industry, incarnates the figure of the new artisan of the 21st-century? In either case, design today applies to the teachings of industrial culture as well as traditional artisanship and its current "makers" (who call themselves artisans or designer) devote themselves daily to carrying out new forms of juncture between art and industry.


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Pascal Gautrand

Pascal Gautrand

Made in Mazamet. Made in Town founder, consultant and teacher, he is graduated from the Institut Français de la Mode and used to be a boarder in the fashion design division at the Villa Medici in Rome. He develops a reflexion, mainly in the fashion field, about the manufacturing culture. His approach, oriented towards the promotion of know-how, expresses through writing, video and fashion design. As a consultant, he especially collaborates with Première Vision for the organization of Maison d’Exceptions: a dedicated area about fabric know-how within the show and for the online magazine Maison d’Exceptions whose he is editor.

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