Monday 18 Apr 2011


From ancient wicker and weave to clinical, retro-futuristic contraptions, this year's Euroluce at Milan Furniture Fair brought international attention to the current landscape of lighting design.

In these times of relative austerity, designers are continuing to react with good humour to a sluggish economy by elevating humble techniques, parodying design classics and engaging the user with the product on a personal level - in short, lighting design has developed an affable personality.

A return to nature was prevalent in many of the collections, and is the underpinning theme of SLAMP's showcased designs. Joyful, mysterious and a little bit cheeky, SLAMP takes inspiration from the natural world and teases its innocence with unexpected elements of playfulness; lampshades shaped like witches' hats are transformed when viewed from beneath, taking on the form of a flower in full bloom, while a black-painted steel floor lamp, which has an almost aggressive appearance, bounces gently back and forth when prodded on the stem. An element of interaction between light and user is essential in this range - be it physically or psychologically - providing a further dimension to the emotional experience that lighting design evokes.

This sense of light-heartedness was also apparent in the work of Örsjö Belysning, a Swedish company established in 1948. Their Kvest ceiling lamp was displayed at Euroluce in a way that similarly addresses its potential beyond functionality and aesthetics; suspended between two enormous circular mirrors, the installation created a never-ending reflection that provides, as Örsjö Belysning jokingly claim, a humorous sense of ‘value for money'.

The candid nature of these approaches was also a prominent feature in the work of Finnish company Secto, whose range consists solely of handmade Birch lanterns, while Dutch designers Jacco Maris showcased what can only be described as a hybrid creation of a giant Anglepoise and a street light, called The Outsider, which was very successful in drawing itself to our attention with its sheer over-sized boldness. Another subtle quirk that seemed to pop up throughout the exhibitions was the merging of two lampshades into one, as well as huge photography studio lamps with wide beams of soft white light.

The simplest designs are often the best, and this approach is adopted with conviction by Italian brand Prandina. Operating on a mantra of ‘simplicity and formal precision,' they work with both established and emerging designers from around the world to create universal, aesthetically pared-down designs that unite cultural heritages from East and West. Their Hanoi lamp - one of the most striking additions to the range - is beautifully simplistic, its three-dimensional form created from a single sheet of delicately folded white PMMA, ‘in a sort of exchange between East and West, tradition and modernity,' according to Prandina.

This thoughtful nurturing of ancient traditions and the humbly handmade also manifested in blocks of untreated wood and the use of wood-weaving techniques, exemplified by Bover's unassuming wicker basket lamps with large orbs of white light beaming from within, designed by Gonzalo Milà and Alex Fernández Camps.

Meanwhile at Superstudio Píu, held at the Temporary Museum for New Design - a disused factory in the ever-popular area of Via Tortona - a selection of independent brands and creative collaborations showcased their exciting innovations. Amongst them was the particularly memorable Swedish Love Stories, an exhibition themed on the county of Västra Götaland in Sweden. Here, that sense of playful simplicity and an honest approach to materials abounded in works such as David Taylor's table lamp from the Point and Dot Milan Edition, Johan Carpner's Luchsia lamp, and Lukas Dahlén's The Fifth Element. Here, an enlarged, dysmorphic version of the classic light bulb is moulded using intense heat to the form of its tepee-shaped wooden prop. The designer's romantic description of the two material components - wood and glass - tells the story of a brief, fiery encounter between these two elements that renders them forever united.

In fact, parodic versions of the trusty old light bulb made a ubiquitous appearance across the design festival, from Poliform at Euroluce to Tom Dixon's Multiplexin Via Stendhal. The latter's contribution to the festivities was a collaboration project with Blackberry, which united his furniture and lighting design with cutting-edge gadgetry. As well as clusters of giant bulbs in his Bulb and Chandeliers series, his new range of lights includes a set of digitally manufactured, honey-coloured shades named Etch. These are made by employing a hi‐tech process used to produce electronic products such as circuit boards, allowing intricate patterns to be cut directly onto the brass sheets, which are then lacquered to prevent oxidisation. Cut into polygonal forms and bundled together, the installation of these futuristic lamps was reminiscent of a golden bee-hive of unearthly dimensions.

Another twist on a historical design icon emerged in the Margherita design for the ceiling of the Boscolo hotel, which started life as a bank in the 1960s. With the concept of retaining a sense of this decade through the new décor, lighting designer Marco Bisenzi created a psychedelic flower pattern from a series of 3-channel LEDs, designed by Artemide, that fade softly in and out from tones of cool blue to warm yellow light.

The merging of antiquity with the present and the distant future - a theme that has lingered in the art and design world persistently, interestingly, since the dawn of the economic downturn - held its own in a number of strong showcases. Successful Living from Diesel themed their exhibition at Superstudio Píuon the story of an explorer from the future returning to the present day. Their lighting range, which included the Mysterio Lamp: In Surreptitious Black with Aged Chrome and Enlightened White with Copper Penny, was given atmospheric emphasis by the fact that the room was immersed in almost total darkness, with eclectic lamps tucked away in strange hexagonal cabins. One of these recesses contained a bust of Venus gazing skywards, framed by a scattering of wall-mounted, twinkling discs of light.

While retro-futuristic, geometric box-forms and multi-faceted surfaces continue to prove favourable across the board, Pallucco's exhibition recalled futuristic designs from ages past and brought them sophisticatedly into the present day, with Jean Nouvel's Micro Telescopic hanging lamps and a restyling of a 1907 design entitled Fortuny Giudecca 805 by Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo being particularly notable.

From science fiction we move naturally into the realm of magic and mystery with Italian company Illumiluce. In a tiny space on Via Tortona they presented their exclusive Alchemy line, which plays on the notions of apprehension surrounding science and witchcraft. The LED-based collection proved extremely popular, with crowds gathering in bemusement around two huge glass cauldrons, emitting alternate puffs of purple, red, yellow, blue and green smoke, while smaller versions bubbled quietly in the corners of the room, suspended from thin black rods.

The conceptual motifs of this year's exhibitions remain a little tentative and distinctly familiar. Yet, with subtle elements of anthropomorphism, humour and a mood of child-like exploration, the designs are redeemed with an infectious sense of much-needed fun. Devoid of ostentation, the collectivere treat to the purest, nature-inspired forms with a shy sprinkling of eccentricity has resulted in a modest set of instant design classics that are just waiting to meet you.


Amy Knight, Arts & Media Correspondent