by Antonella Dedini
This month’s The List is all about lighting as seen from various points of view:
as a transversal look at the world of lamps and lighting fixtures;
as a personal selection of lamps that, unfortunately, can’t possible include the hundreds I love;
as an opportunity to reflect on the concept of light where the viewer is central to the experience;
to provide examples where the various uses of a lamp determine its shape and not vice versa;
to talk about materials that facilitate new types and shapes of lighting;
to learn about are alternative energy sources that bring light;
to discover and be amazed by objects created thanks to an exchange between art and design, to wash away the dust of everyday life as Picasso would say, and to reflect on society.
Olafur Eliasson, In Real Life, Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Portugal 2020
This month’s The List opens with a cover photo dedicated to one of the most fascinating artists in contemporary art, Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, who is perhaps best known for his incredible installation The Weather Project, brought to the Tate Modern in London in 2003. In the interactive installation, he experiments with the perception of light and its influence on the human body. People are always at the center of and involved in his art. In his multidisciplinary studio art, design and architecture studio, his deep knowledge of physics and technology are also evident, and his experiments on the phenomena of reflection and refraction of light, often related to geometry, are fascinating. These “viewing machines”, as he defines them, transform the image of the room with its inhabitants into a kaleidoscope.
If you want to see this great artist’s work for yourself in Italy, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence is hosting a solo exhibit, curated by Arturo Galansino, dedicated to Olafur Eliasson from September 22, 2022 to January 29, 2023.
LIGHT AND TIME
Times Square Ball, Waterford Crystal, USA 1907 (1st version) – 2020 (current version)
The famous ball that drops for the New Year's Eve countdown in Times Square in New York has been around for over a century. The first version in iron and wood dates back to 1907, whereas the current ball used is the sixth version. This iconic sphere, which is used only for a few seconds each year, has been part of the New Year's Eve countdown since 1907 until today, with the exception only of 1942 and 1943 due to restrictions imposed because of World War II.
The countdown ball which is currently used has been adjusted and modified over the years in keeping with technological advances. In 1920, the ball was made from wood only. Then in 1955, an aluminum version was created and was the longest-used version up to 2000.
To celebrate the new millennium, a new ball was designed by Waterford Crystal – the company that has been in charge of creating the ball since then – and was decked with halogen and strobe lights. The ball got another makeover in 2007 with ultra efficient LED lights that give off over 16 million shades of color. The current version debuted in 2009 has a diameter of 3.6 meters, making it twice as big as the previous one. Its new design is a geodesic shape divided into 2,688 triangles with 32,256 LED lights.
Rosone Merletto wall or ceiling lamp, Mariano Light 1898, Italy
The art and culture of lighting has been handed down to us over time, and light can awaken memories of places, people and things.
Lights have antique origins, and since the 17th century light sources such as lamps made from cloth covered in tar, vases containing oil, or candles have been used to create joy, celebration, solemnity, and for a host of other reasons.
These luminaries were a Baroque tradition that flourished especially in the cities of southern Italy where the custom of patron saint festivals and religious processions were particularly important in celebrating the saints and the Madonna. With the arrival of electricity and the invention of the light bulb, luminaries became all about creating the most imaginative forms, with plays on colors to create majestic compositions representing crowns, altars, thrones, arches and domes. Luminaries have the power to transform spaces into enchanted fairy-tale places. Which is why traditional Salento luminaries are a veritable form of art that can embellish home and garden.
LIGHT AND COLOR
Elisa Bertolussi, Thea Kuta, pendant lamp, Missoni Home, Italy
This lamp is all about the seven colors of the rainbow. The primary design component (as great designer Achille Castiglioni used to teach us) of this fixture is its colors and their arrangement into a pattern. Lighting has the power to give character to the spaces we inhabit, and rainbow colors encompass a chromatic spectrum that is rich in cultural and therapeutic meanings. Color is energy and radiates forces that affect us all. This kaleidoscope in the form of a lamp leaves us infused with a sensation of wellbeing and vitality.
This suspension lamp was handmade by weaving multi-coloured wool threads that form a web of mesmerizing colors.
SPHERE OF LIGHT
Gio Ponti, Bilia table lamp, Fontana Arte, Italy, 1931
The Bilia lamp can be described as a magical sphere and cone that come together in perfectly harmonious proportions. The cone is the perfect stable base and instills security and balance, while the sphere is a representation of the concept of light inspired by the sun.
Gio Ponti’s minimalism is always cheerful, playful and in constant search of lightness, which he sought in the design of this lamp.
For him, objects and furniture should become parts of a home yet without imposition and in such a way as to leave space to live as we all desire.
“I pursue the dream of a living, versatile home, which continually adapts to the changes in our life, indeed encourages it” (Gio Ponti).
Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun, solar LED lamp, 2012
This little portable solar LED champions the concepts of sustainability, clean energy and the environment which are always present in Olafur Eliasson work. This ingenious little dimmable, 12cm lamp is powered by the sun, and with 5 hours of charging it yields 10 hours of light.
Starting from this accessible, clean and reliable light source Eliasson, along with engineer Frederik Ottesen, launched a global project that quickly became a foundation: Little Sun Foundation was created with the goal of distributing solar energy to 1.1 billion people who do not readily have access to light and electricity and are forced to use kerosene lamps which are toxic and expensive. According to the founders, Olafur Eliasson demonstrates the belief that art can change the world, including by promoting Little Sun as an extension of his art, and many of their current and future projects are based on art, involve artistic thinking, or use their own products to create more art (pantografomagazine.com/little-sun).
Over 660,000 of these lamps have been sold, helping more than 1,648,000 people without readily available electricity, thus reducing CO2 emissions by 134,572 tons. For more information, visit https://littlesun.org/.
LIGHT IN THE STORM
Hurricane lantern or hurricane lamp, designer unknown, R.E. Dietz Company USA, since 1840
This lamp gets its name thanks to its ability to stay lit even in high winds.
It features a glass chimney that shelters the flame, which is generated by cold air supplied by side vents. The air feeds a kerosene-based solution that produces a beautiful, consistent white light.
Perfect for illuminating stormy nights.
Manolux Dima Cev torch light in aluminum, F.lli Pagani, Milan, Italy, circa 1940, Achille Castiglioni private collection
This little torch light, which is powered manually using the lever on the side, belonged to the father of Irma Barni (Achille Castiglioni’s wife) who kept it in his soldier’s knapsack during World War II. It uses a 6V bulb and has one of the first unbreakable plexiglass lenses for use in war.
The torch’s name “Cev” comes from the acronym for the name of the Pagani brother’s company, Costruzioni Elettromeccaniche Venegonesi, which specialized in lighting for motorbikes and mopeds. This torch light was called the “legendary Cev”, and one can only imagine how many times it came in handy. If they hadn’t invented smartphones with an integrated flashlight, we might just still use the Cev. It fits perfectly in the palm of the hand and doesn’t require a charger.
q. Gio Ponti, Suspension Lamp 0024, FontanaArte, Italy, 1931
“For life to be great and full it is necessary to put the past and the future into it”, said Gio Ponti.
Luigi Fontana was a company that manufactured sheets of glass for the building industry and was founded in Milan in 1881. In the early 19th century, it began producing furnishing items made of glass and immediately became the leading company in Italy thanks to its adoption of avant-garde techniques.
In 1932 Fontana Arte was founded as the artistic division of the company. This technical and artistic approach to working with materials was combined with the skill of the designers who created unprecedented and unique designs. In the 1930s, the production line was entrusted to the artistic direction of Gio Ponti, who began designing the first pieces as early as 1931.
The architect took the shape of a sphere and transformed it into the famous 0024 lamp. This light fixture resembles those ancient lamps that exploit glass transparencies to reflect and amplify light. The lamp has a sequence of horizontal disks of transparent tempered glass with a cylindrical sandblasted glass diffuser in the centre. Ponti designed a series, which also includes the XL version, the T002 floor lamp, and the XXL version, which has an extraordinary diameter of 141cm for larger spaces. The structure is suspended with four steel cables.
Kazuhiro Yamanaka, suspension lamp, Cielo, Pallucco, Italy, 2011
From sunrise to sunset, the sky constantly changes colors and the resulting light changes drastically. Even during the day, colors change from shades of blue, white and gray, giving the impression that the universe is in constant flux.
This was the concept behind Cielo, a lamp with a lampshade made out of a sheet of lenticular reflective plastic that changes colors based on the angle from which it is viewed. Lenticular fabric is a lattice-like arrangement of thin layers of glassy materials. When the surface of the fabric is smooth, it often has a reflective appearance. The lamp’s color ranges from blue (Pantone 072) to white and dark gray (Pantone 426) to white.
Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Taraxacum 60 in cocoon, suspension lamp, Flos, Italy, 1960
Experimenting with Merano company Heisenkeil’s patent, acquired by Flos, the Castiglionis explored the possibilities of creating designs using a synthetic fiber, already used in lamps designed by George Nelson and Isamu Noguchi, called cocoon. This material was used by US armed forces for arms that needed to be transported or were no longer in use.
The lamp takes its shape thanks to the arrangement of the fiber which, like a dress when worn, adheres to the metal structure. The result is a beautiful form that is the result of the experimentation and vision of its designers.
For more information, visit www.fondazioneachillecastiglioni.it
Yonoh Studio Creative, Lent suspension lamp, Italy, 2017
Lent is a suspension lamp with direct lighting for dining or work tables. The underside of the lampshade is covered in a fabric which, in addition to refracting and amplifying light, creates a sound-absorbing panel.
The material used for this piece is the defining element of this lamp, which is both stunning and useful. Combining different functions in the same object with this ability is very complex, especially considering that lighting design has almost always focused more on technical or aesthetic performance than on adding other features. Going “beyond light” is always risky and it is easy to fall into superfluous trappings. With this stunning light fixture, the Spanish designers of Yonoh Studio Creative went above and beyond.
Drum New, Missoni Home Collection, Italy, 2021
This lamp is all about customization, but most of all versatility in the play of fabric patterns to match interiors and in the different atmospheres of light that can be created based on the colors chosen. All rare qualities in a lamp. In this case, it is the material that determines each configuration, and the possibilities are endless.
This pendant lamp is available in different sizes, all made from a semi-transparent material that diffuses light evenly. The idea lies in the customization of the fabric that can be chosen from the Missoni Home Collection. A simple idea, but one that responds to today’s ever-increasing demand for tailor-made products.
PERSONALIZED METAL CHANDELIER
Vittore Carpaccio, The Ambassadors Return to the English Court, Legend of Saint Ursula, Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia, 1490–1500
This is an extraordinary metal chandelier, which we know was much in use at the time, along with wooden ones that held wax candles. There was also a decorative covering of the ceiling support structure.
As was often the case, the chandelier was decorated with pendants with a coat of arms and was thus personalized.
TECHNOLOGY AND MINIMAL FORMS
Shigeru Ban, Yumi, floor lamp, Fontana Arte, Italy + Studio Habits, Elastica, extendable floor lamp, Martinelli Luce, Italy
Does the shape of the lamp determine the type of light source or vice versa?
These are two lamps that would never have existed if LED technology hadn’t been invented. LED technology is the biggest and most important innovation in the world of lighting technology and has revolutionized the way we understand and perceive light. LED is known for its energy savings and for being able to combine quality and efficiency, but above all it has a dimensional impact, in proportion to its output, and allows for streamlined light fixtures. Today, LED technology makes it possible for us to design and create forms that move away from more classic shapes and lead to geometric, minimalist forms and strips of light.
The Yumi floor lamp, which means “arch” in Japanese, has 170 LED lights integrated into the structure of the lamp: light sources that guarantee minimum space and lightness. Even the light’s cord are completely embedded into its structure thanks to their being made from a special material that is resistant to high temperatures.
Then there’s Elastica, a floor lamp that extends between the ceiling and the floor and can adapt to different heights and spaces. Consisting of a strip of stretchy fabric where a flexible LED circuit is housed, it can be adjusted in height and inclination through a special attachment fixed to the strip of elasticised fabric. Unleash your imagination with this light fixture!
FUNCTION BEFORE FORM
Achille castiglioni, direct light floor lamp Arco, Flos, 1962; illustration from IG profile @gomma.png
Achille Castiglioni designed light fixtures that would create a different use of artificial light in interiors depending on their intended use. Here the use of light is innovative. The Arco lamp was designed to liberate spaces from the constraints of fixed ceiling lamps. It facilitates lighting a table top wherever and whenever you want, without having a chandelier that can’t be moved. It was the first mobile overhead light for indoor use and was a truly innovative idea because it allowed for a mobile concept of light that was no longer constrained by a fixed light in one position.
It was named Arco because everything stems from the perfection of its geometry and the physics of its counterweights. Its Carrara marble base weighs 50 kg and has rounded edges with a hole that can be used to insert a broom handle and easily move it. A supporting pole extends from the base, creating an arc that measures 2 meters, which is large enough to provide a large amount of light. The lampshade is perforated to allow ventilation and is also movable in order to adjust the intensity of the light diffused above. The lamp thus provides direct light as well as soft light.
Paolo Ulian, marble table lamp Più o meno, Cyrcus Design
3D nesting is a term that indicates the process, similar to a real “nest”, of grouping objects for optimal printing within a 3D printing space, and along with digital manufacturing is a way to achieve economies of scale. Numerical control machines that cut semi-finished products, but also 3D printing and CNC machining, with water or tooled lasers, digitally cut any complex shape in the same time and at the same cost as a simple shape, so cutting or 3D printing a hundred pieces that are all the same or each one different costs the same. With nesting, we enter into a circular economy based on product variability and not on seriality, thus drastically reducing waste.
All of the components of Paolo Ulian’s lamp are made from a whole slab of marble with zero waste.
BALANCE AND MOVEMENT
Franco Albini, Mitragliera lamp, extendable with base in mahogany, 1938. Private collection.
The lampshade slides along the lamp base, stretching in a continuous search for lightness and balance. A skilful play of tension and resistance, which Albini experimented with to achieve stability of things and in life.
Albini loved “the fantasy of precision” in concepts balanced between rigor and freedom (G. Ponti, 1939).
DIALOGUE BETWEEN ART AND DESIGN Anthropomorphism and everyday objects
Yonel Lebovici Fiche Mâle lamp, 1977 Rare lamp, 1 of 30 Lamp in polished cast aluminum and chrome steel
Satellite wall lamp and Les Yeux sans Visage floor lamp and 1981 polished aluminum, chrome-plated steel, black lacquered steel
Lebovici called his works “functional sculptures” inspired by everyday objects. Thanks to his engineering background, his works were perfect from a technical point of view and thus were highly attractive. The world of these sculptures inspired by everyday objects is fascinating. They are works that embody the irony that illuminates our everyday lives. French artist and designer Yonel Lebovici was perhaps one of the most brazen artists of French pop design. He had an extravagant approach, often distorting our perception of familiar objects by transforming their proportions or playing with their shapes. He created a fantastic, ironic world with objects. He set aside all pretensions of form and function and fully embraced the creative freedom of the 1960s and 1970s.
ART, DIALOGUE WITH DESIGN
Inspiration from the Mediterranean
Ugo Marano, iron bird, 1990. Marble and lacquered iron, 200 cm. Produced by Ultima edizione.
Marano was described by critic Gillo Dorfles as an artist from the new century, capable of symbolic and conceptual reflection, but also of sophisticated craftsmanship, in a triumph of manual skills.
A visionary talent, in 1991 he created the “Vasai di Cetara” group in the fishing village where he lived, just a few kilometers from the city of Salerno, Italy, where he designed and built the Fontana Felice in 1996. He was defined as the “Oracle of the myths of origin” for the techniques and materials he rediscovered with his work and the materials he used, inspired by Mediterranean tradition, including iron, ceramics and mosaics.
ART, DIALOGUE WITH DESIGN
Inspiration from nature
Michele Oka Doner Table lamp Golden reflection, 2016 Patinated and gilded gold leaf bronze Chandelier Water Flowers, 2018
American artist Michele Oka Doner has been called “nature’s scribe”. Her sculptures and decorative objects – candelabras, lamps and accessories – are reminiscent of organic forms like bark, tree roots, microscopic molecules and the human body.
Her work is internationally recognised and she creates a wide variety of pieces including sculpture, prints, drawings, functional objects and videos.
“I became a sculptor because of the shapes around me. The silhouette of trees in the evening and the seeds that fell out of trees – these memories are primal – there before I’m 5”.
Michele Oka Doner’s work is fueled by a constant and scientific study of nature. Growing up near one of Miami’s beaches, she collected shells and fragments of coral but was also fascinated by natural forms on land, such as pods, leaves and branches. The forms of the natural world became the foundation for her artistic language.