Sacha Buliard’s responsive mat lets users connect with their bodies

Global graduate, Sacha Buliard spoke at the 2020 Design Indaba Conference.

Sacha Buliard’s responsive mat, Unlearn, provides a uniquely somatic experience for users. Roughly the size of a tatami and made of ecological foam, the mat is embossed with a layer of instructions and patterns, and comes with three small objects for use.

Upon waking up in the morning, users are encouraged to engage with the mat in order to reorient themselves within their bodies.

The mat forms part of a project called ‘Unlearn, partition ouverte vers une conscience corporelle’, which was inspired by Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith’s ‘Contact-Improvisation’ dance technique, created in 1972, where dancers use the physical laws of friction, momentum, gravity and inertia to explore the relationship between bodies and the space around them.

These processes are carried over to the experience with the mat – there are four stages users can engage with: ‘to wake’, ‘to balance’, ‘to explore’ and ‘to touch’.

The pattern on the mat is a music score from composer John Cage, called ‘Cartridge Music’. Cage distributed these abstract patterns to his musicians, asking them to create music together – in this way, he asked them to get involved in their own music, rather than just follow a classical music score.

“The abstract instructions and patterns on the mat are made to create the same type of involvement, but in body consciousness,” says Buliard.

For Buliard, connecting with the body is an essential skill – one she honed by studying the performing arts, dance and contemporary circus routines.

Trained as an event and product designer, as well as scenographer, at École Boulle in Paris – a college of fine arts, crafts and applied arts – Buliard is particularly interested in deconditioning the body, ‘unlearning’ the bad habit of not paying attention to what our bodies are telling us.

The Quebec, Canada-dwelling designer has paid close attention to experimental dancers and choreographers like Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Jerome Bel and John Cage, who have a very particular approach to movement. Her focus is on how design can help to incorporate these techniques in one’s day-to-day life, for better health, self-awareness and wellbeing. 

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Sacha Bulliard is part of the Global Graduates class of 2020. Design Indaba curates the selection of global graduates together with the heads of more than 40 design institutes and colleges (and beyond) around the world. Global Gradautes are selected on the basis of their working being a change-maker, demonstrating social or environmental impact, engagement with global challenges, project feasibility, and/or an exceptionally high level of innovation.