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Emanuele Quinz

"Art has a fundamental role, as a space for experimentation of the social"

(Prof. Dr. Emanuele Quinz)

Prof. Dr. EMANUELE QUINZ is an art and design historian and art curator. Lecturer at University Paris 8 and associate researcher at EnsadLab, École nationale supérieure des Arts décoratifs, he has notably published Le cercle invisible, Environnements, systèmes, dispositifs (Mimesis, 2014, Presses du réel, 2015), Strange Design (ed., with J. Dautrey, it: éditions, 2014), Contro l'oggetto. Conversazioni sul design (Quodlibet, 2020, Compasso d'Oro Prize 2022), and Le comportement des choses (ed., Les presses du réel, 2021). 


His research explores the convergences between disciplines in contemporary artistic practices: from visual arts to music, from dance to design. For the EnsAD, Emanuele Quinz created with Samuel Bianchini, "Dissect"—an updated theatre for the analysis and discussion of contemporary works of art and design in the presence of the works. Critically referencing classic anatomy lessons—like the one portrayed by Rembrandt in 1632—it aims to talk not about things, but with things, combining words, gestures, and objects in a public dispositif designed for an interactive process. 

Since 2012, together with Samuel Bianchini, he has been coordinating the Behaviors research project—between art, science and design, in partnership with Ensad, the Industrial Prospective service of Centre Pompidou and the Chart-Lutin laboratory of University Paris 8. 


In November 2022 (Tieranatomisches Theater, Humboldt Universität, Berlin), he will take part of Berlin Science Week, a 10-day international festival that brings together the world's most innovative scientific organizations and experts to facilitate an open and interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and knowledge. 


Can art foster social change - and what role can artists and their work play in this? Is there room for them to take a leading role?


Asking this question is absolutely central: placing art in a social context is a necessity and an urgency in a world in crisis such as ours. But this does not necessarily mean filling it with seemingly socially engaged content, nurturing a literal, simplistic view of engagement - at the risk of permanently diverting the judgement of its impact from aesthetic to moral. Art has a fundamental role, as a space for experimentation of the social, in which to experience the transformations taking place and in preparation. It is not a question of action and therefore of leadership, which the artist should assume, as the historical avant-gardes or the movements of the 1960s advocated, but on the contrary of consciousness. Artists should be the first not to express certainties but to push us to dwell in doubt, to make us aware that not knowing is more interesting than knowing.  


In the face of the radical upheavals and crises of our time, can we still hope for a better future? And what impact might "narrative" have on this future's construction process?


Hope is a fundamental component of art, and especially of design. If art can afford to stop at doubt and criticism, design always wants to result in a proposal. Based on the thinking of Tomas Maldonado - who published a book called La Speranza progettuale in 1971 - I define design as a “technology of hope”. Not only is there design because there is hope, but there is hope because there is design (i.e. the possibility of changing something). And, to develop, to spread, to contaminate, hope certainly needs narratives, which are not only reassuring, but also cautionary. 

Therefore, I am interested in alternative design currents - such as critical or speculative design, which work on fiction, sketching scenarios of the future. In the book Strange Design (edited with Jehanne Dautrey, it éditions, 2016), I tried to reconstruct the genealogy of these trends, starting with the Italian radicals of the 1960s. In all these practices, design, instead of producing objects, composes narratives in which strange objects induce strange behaviour and thus help us, through the deviation of strangeness, to understand the impact of objects on our daily lives, how they condition our relationships with others, how they shape the horizon of society. From this point of view, these narratives oppose the official design narratives, which Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, critical design theorists, have called “affirmative” - reinforcing the status quo. With the power of imagination, irony and surprise, these design narratives warn us against design, against a certain design - and help us better understand how to prepare our future more equitably.


What might be the premises of a transdisciplinary dialogue (between art, culture and other disciplines) capable of triggering social transformation? In your own work, what expertise or practices could go in the direction of such a transdisciplinarity?


For several years now, I have been examining the inter- or trans-disciplinary, notably in a master's seminar at the Université Paris 8, entitled Enjeux de l'interdisciplinaire.

Traditionally, a discipline is defined as a domain structured by codes and norms. It is identified by the boundaries that delimit it, as much by what it includes as by what it excludes. Consequently, the notion of interdisciplinary indicates a confrontation and possibly a connection between constituted disciplines, between methodologies and theories coming from different epistemological horizons, and in the case of art, from codified genres, established by a tradition and institutionalized by a milieu. In a nuance not always easy to point out, the transdisciplinary suggests a more fluid relationship, of exchange, of transfer. For his part, the Canadian artist François-Joseph Lapointe proposes the notion of paradisciplinary, which describes a strategy of contamination. But what interests me is what I call counter-disciplinary,

Firstly, I define it as a tension - which is both dialogical and polemical, positional and oppositional. A tension is related to a force rather than a form, to a dynamic - which both pushes towards something, and pushes away from something.

It is this tension that I try to implement in the research projects I explore - notably with the Reflective Interaction team at Ensadlab (Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris) and with my accomplice, the artist and researcher Samuel Bianchini. In these projects, the convocation of skills and knowledge, but also of heterogeneous perspectives, the confrontation between art, design, hard sciences, social sciences or engineering sciences constitute both a means and an objective. The project becomes the place, the theatre of a counter-disciplinary exchange, which does not aim at confrontation but at cooperation - and which directly involves the public. The prefix “counter” must not lead to a contraction where each discipline closes in behind its trenches, but on the contrary to a contract, not to a negation, but to a negotiation. The counter-disciplinary tension expresses this imperative of emancipation - and redesigns the art system as a theatre of boundaries, which need to be constantly crossed, moved. This tension seems to me to be the condition for a transformation, both of art and of the social horizon.


Assuming it is possible to build a better world on the ruins of the old one - what do you think it might look like? What would you wish for a better world?


The 'better world' issue disturbs me. The word “better” seems innocent, indicating an improvement in material living conditions, but, in reality, it always conceals a moralistic undertone. Who determines what is good, and what is better? With what legitimacy? 
Of course, this does not deny the crisis, political, social and above all ecological, in which we find ourselves, but there is no single solution. There are perspectives, dynamics, positions, which must be thought of pluralistically, which must be negotiated. 

One of the focal points that awaits us, and which interests me most, is the redefinition of social space - which can no longer be limited to human beings. While we need to remove all forms of social injustice and marginalization from the human horizon, we also need to question the anthropocentric approach to society by including other forms of subjectivity, such as other living beings and why not, even artefacts. This complexity of the social seems to me one of the challenges of the present and one of the most beautiful prospects for the future.



It's often said that artists (and creative people) have this unique ability to endlessly search for the new, to start from scratch over and over again. When you start a new project, what strategies or rituals do you personally use?


Even though I work on the present and the future, my training as a historian always leads me to look backwards in order to see forward. History is fundamental - and today we are witnessing a fundamental process of rewriting, which replaces the universalist and self-definingly objective discourse of the modern tradition with plural, more situated, decentralised narratives. It is a crucial, exciting moment.

I have no specific rituals, because projects for me always arise from dialogue with others, artists, designers. So, I can perhaps say that the first point is dialogue, sitting down and discussing.

The interview was conducted in September 2022.

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