Shining a Light on Production Systems

Théophile Blandet


Production systems are optimised for specific outcomes through meticulous design. They harmonise material, technology, supply chains, human resources, and infrastructure to create tangible objects. These objects validate the effectiveness of the systems. This is especially evident in Hamilton, a major player in medical and laboratory instrument manufacturing, with its Timișoara facility ranking as the second-largest in Europe. How can this implicit expertise and design be mapped, made tangible, and potentially reapplied? 

Turn Signals—Design is not a Dashboard features two lighting objects produced by Théophile Blandet during a one-month residency at the Hamilton facility in Timșoara. Blandet is a French artist and designer based in the Netherlands. His practice stimulates spurious narratives by bringing together the antithetical logics of sophistication—as in engineering precision and industrial production—and the haphazard—such as material bric-à-brac and eccentric pop culture. The result is ‘infra-ordinary’ objects that resist efforts of categorisation, rather evoking a metamorphic disruption. 

In this interview, Blandet talks about the process and result of his residency.

What do the lighting objects on show in the Turn Signals exhibition represent? 

Théophile Blandet: These lamps are a collage of my interaction with Hamilton, mapping my complete assimilation into the factory’s environment. They are crafted from high-tech parts that cannot be found anywhere else, and are made using the high-tech processes and valuable knowledge I had access to. The people at Hamilton generously shared their expertise in rare materials and advanced manufacturing capacities with me. Drawing inspiration from their innovative manufacturing processes and diverse departments, I integrated their systems and repurposed them to create atypical objects that deviated from their usual production line of medical devices such as precision syringes and ventilators. The project was intentionally designed to disrupt their controlled production lines, causing interference and asking them to dedicate a part of their line to fulfil my requests. This concept of disruption became the core of my working method resulting in the development of two lamps. 

Working as an embedded researcher and designer within such a tight timeframe is a distinctive methodology. What was your approach? 

TB: Although my goal was to develop a completely new product within a strict deadline, my approach was to arrive at the factory devoid of preconceived ideas and preparative drawings. My intention was to immerse myself in the logic of the factory for a month, adapting myself to its rhythm, working closely with its people, and developing a project that encompassed all of the departments, ranging from Research and Development to Manufacturing. 

During the pandemic, Hamilton swiftly adapted to the challenges and set up new assembly lines to produce ventilators, and similarly, it responded to my intrusion with agility. I was granted complete access and faced no limitations regarding production methods. All my requests were treated with utmost seriousness and were immediately considered and executed. 

You described your approach to Hamilton’s controlled environment as disruptive. Can you elaborate on this? 

TB: When I arrived, I initially familiarised myself with the company’s internal structure, their existing products, and the materials they used in their manufacturing processes. However, one of the most valuable aspects of my research involved a daily ritual of examining the ‘red discard boxes’ present on each workstation at the factory. These boxes contained parts that were rejected during the previous shifts. Over the course of my stay, I meticulously collected these discarded parts, accumulating a treasure trove of materials. Among the items I gathered were raw stacks of rods made from materials such as Brass, PEEK, and transparent Teflon, as well as gold-coated parts. I also salvaged syringes that had been discarded due to minor defects that only the skilled workers could identify.

By amassing these discarded materials, I found significant resources and insights that directed the evolution of the project, and disrupted the expected values and outcomes of the system. The personnel called it the ‘special project’, as their usual product outcomes were efficiency-based, designed to endure a million cycles before reaching clients. With access to their materials, when it came to production of the lighting objects, I instead adopted a sculpting method, adding elements day by day, and harmonising with their production. This fluid composition evolved with my findings and surroundings, allowing for changes. The unconventional requests I made further solidified the ‘special project’ moniker.

Would it be accurate to characterise the project as a complex collaborative endeavour? 

TB: Yes, the project represents a fluid interaction resulting in a symphony, akin to an orchestra without partitions. I took on the role of a conductor, and Hamilton, in turn, acted as the orchestra. Together, we created a symphony. Directing this orchestra was smooth and allowed for a great sense of creative freedom. It involved a continuous exchange of ideas and discussions, fostering a collaborative sharing of knowledge. As the conductor of this creative symphony, my goal was to draw on a broad spectrum of the factory’s methods and tap into the diverse skills of the personnel, which I could never fully master due to their technical specificity and precision. The project’s realisation relied on the proficient individuals at the Hamilton factory, who played a vital role in giving form to the lighting pieces. This fruitful collaboration with over 30 individuals resulted in lighting objects that stand as a symphony of technical brilliance, showcasing a harmonious fusion between designer and factory.


Interview by Nadine Botha

Image Credits

Marius Danci