In a digital age, reality is a nebulous concept. The confines of our world have shifted, the edges of existence loosened; our lives are experienced twice, both in person, and on screen. With the rise of CGI, differentiating between these two “realities” can be nearly impossible; a fact celebrated rather than condemned in the latest work from Parisian studio Services Généraux: a “manifesto house”, titled simply ‘Maison’.
This concept piece is complex in its layers and intricate in its imagination: ’Maison’ is a modern, minimalist house that sits within the ruins of a former shed on a property of 500 hectares in the southwest of France—or is it? The question of reality is at the center of an exhibition that opened at Galerie Joyce in Paris on the 8th of October. Here, the house and its contents—an assortment of objects and furniture from the who’s who of contemporary design—were placed on display, alongside a thoughtfully designed tome that celebrates their form.
In a preface to the publication about ‘Maison’, Dan Thawley hints at the ambiguity of the “reality” proposed by the project. He explains that the renovation of the country home in Dordogne was undertaken for a client “whose name and occupation remain[s] undisclosed in this document (and, in all transparency, to me)”. Does the client exist? If you ask Antoine and Valentin, the founders of Services Généraux, they’ll likely quip: Does it matter?
“We imagined, from the first stone to the very last cushion, a house,” they explain. “This house’s aesthetic and philosophy are the reflection of our creative identity, both as artists and technicians.” While the creative bureau is known for producing photorealistic CGI work, its founders are equally well known for being unknown; deliberately casting themselves as anonymous in an era where most are rabidly seeking their 15 minutes of fame. Their somewhat unusual penchant for concealment gives context to the enigmatic quality of this self-initiated project.
“In 2018, we discovered the remains of the Domaine de Boscare in the Southwest of France”, they pair explain. “We were fortunate to be entrusted with it, to bring the Domaine back to life, through the rehabilitation of the place, and the creation of a house, our manifest house. The lands of the Domaine de Boscare extend almost half a thousand hectares, nearly entirely covered with groves and wild forests in the Perigord Vert”. Whilst the story they paint of the property is so vivid that you can almost feel the cool green of nature settling over you as you read it, a quick search online reaps interesting results. Whilst the colored region of Perigord Vert in the Dordogne is real, the ancient property ‘Domaine de Boscare’ is nowhere to be found.
To further confuse the division between real and unreal are the images and videos of the building itself. ‘Maison’ is set amongst a landscape of rolling hills and unkempt fields; its windows reflect the sunrise and sunset, and its walls are settled into a space that once held an old farmhouse. Inside, the spacious three bedroom house is populated by familiar design objects that give the understated interior a sumptuous edge. Look closely, and you will spy Faye Toogood’s ‘Roly Poly Chair’, Soft Baroque’s ‘Lamp/Vase’, the deep black ‘Curial’ chair by Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy, throw rugs by M/M for Byredo, lamps by Max Lamb, paintings by Ned Karlovich, Aesop in the bathroom and flower arrangements by Parisian florists Debeaulieu on the dining table. So where then does digital end and reality begin?
Materially real and unreal, it seems that once again Services Généraux has succeeded in the art of disguise. In the postface of the publication, Dan Thawley notes that the twist of ‘Maison’ lies in its very intangibility as a space. “Peering past the grain of twilight, both still and moving images gently betray the overarching truth of the project’s entirely digital reality”, he writes. It is precisely this unreal nature that allows ‘Maison’ to morph from “dreamlike” into actual dream: An evanescent space, not only for Antoine and Valentin, but for all those who catch a glimpse inside.