The place for light is everywhere: in color, in movement, in nature, in ideas. And Lightopia is a special space, conceived in the shape of a traveling exhibition, that tells the story of modern light design.
The Light Colors
Carlos Cruz-Diez (Caracas, 1923), kinetic-optic artist and theorist of color, created an installation as a walk inside shades, as there are several light sources, each of them changing its color, each of them assigned to smaller of bigger boxes that form the installation space. Since 1965, when the first Chromostaturation space was created in Paris, this installation of colored light boxes keeps on traveling around the world, from Paris to Caracas, London, Venice, Los Angeles or Seoul, and has got multiple possible versions.
These works relate to the idea that in the origin of every culture lies a primary event as a starting point. A simple situation that generates a whole system of thoughts, sensitivity, myths, etc.
The Chromosaturation is an artificial environment composed of three color chambers, one red, one green and one blue that immerse the visitor in a completely monochrome situation. This experience creates disturbances in the retina, accustomed to receive wide range of colors simultaneously.
The Chromosaturation can act as a trigger, activating in the viewer the notion of color as a material or physical situation, going into space without the aid of any form or even without any support, regardless of cultural beliefs.
The Light Rain
Falling Light is an installation consisting of 50 ceiling suspended mechanical devices each with a custom cut Swarovski crystal optical lens, a computer programmed motor and a white LED.
The armatures rise in syncopation by rotating cam before gravity releases them earthward, activating the LED to move away, closer to the crystal lens. The lens acts as a prism, transforming through diffraction, the LED’s white light into a rainbow myriad, in turn creating the rhythmical ebb and flow of the floor-strewn droplets. Sight and sound converge in the space, demanding that viewers play the role of participants, observing and absorbing the energy of the space. The lens – like a prism – will refract and transform the white light of the LEDs, immersing visitors in a virtual shower of light ‘drops’. The drops, appearing as if encircled by vibrant halos of rainbow colours will rhythmically radiate outward upon hitting the pristine gallery floor. Subtle humming of the space’s mechanisms at work will provide a chorus in tune with the light’s ephemeral movements. Encompassing the concepts of evanescence and fluidity evident in Troika’s iconic pieces, the surface harshness of technological elements fades, leaving a deceptively simple experience of the sublime.
Commissioned by Swarovski Crystal Palace, the Falling Light installation was on show at the Victoria & Albert museum in London as part of British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, presenting the evolution of design in Britain from the 1948 Olympics up to the present day.
The Light Flowers
This is one of the ideas that you rather want to express through images rather than words, as it is… impressively delicate. It is a combination of delicate nature and delicate technology.
The sculptures are entitled Fragile Future and consist of three-dimensional bronze electrical circuits connected to light emitting dandelions. It contains real dandelion seeds, that were picked by hand and glued seed by seed to LED lights.
This labour-intensive process is a clear statement against mass production and throwaway culture. Are the rapid technological developments of our age really more advanced than the evolution of nature, of which the dandelion is such a transient and symbolic example? And how could those two evolve together?
The Light Fun
The lamps in the Fun series were designed (in 1964) by Verner Panton, considered one of Denmark’s most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers. The Fun lights are composed of translucent round discs, flexibly connected with one another by small metal rings. Arranged in chains of varying lengths, the discs are either suspended from a metal ring or, in the case of the larger models, a round ceiling plate. Depending on the number and length of the chains of discs, the lamps take different shapes.
The bulb is in each case located in the centre. The heat emitted by the bulb creates thermal radiation that creates slight movement among the discs, which act as reflectors. Some models in the Fun series have aluminium discs instead of shell discs.
Lightopia was a nomadic exhibition, displaying some of the most appreciated, spectacular and original light ideas of the last 100 years, that has as final point the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology) in Lisbon – a former electricity station converted into a museum, and that is going to have a nice new extension building, soon.
The exhibition explored the narrative of light throughout time using important art and design pieces, some of them unique or never before exhibited, in an attempt to illustrate light’s design and technological development from its earliest representations right up to the most futuristic tendencies.
The primary focus of the exhibition is on works by contemporary designers and artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Troika, Chris Fraser, Front Design, Daan Roosegaarde, Joris Laarman, realities:united and mischer’traxler, who illustrate the scope of new possibilities for designing with light.
Lightopia encompasses roughly 300 works, including numerous iconic artifacts from the Vitra Design Museum’s lighting collection, which has thus far never been presented to the public, with works by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Achille Castiglioni, Gino Sarfatti and Ingo Maurer. Other objects demonstrate the performative power of light, like the famous Light-Space Modulator by László Moholy-Nagy, or the spectacular reconstruction of a discothèque from the year 1968, made entirely out of translucent plexiglass.
A true panorama of lighting design, from the beginnings of industrial society to the visions that will define our future, emerges from the dialogue between the works displayed in Lightopia. The historical review of lighting design also places a sharper focus on the radical changes occurring today. While novel plastics, coloured light and halogen lamps were the driving forces behind new designs during the past century, today this role has been taken on by digitalization or OLED technology. Because of such innovations, light has become increasingly autonomous and independent from traditional lighting objects – it can now be integrated in textiles or facades, and that it has received a completely new importance as a powerful element that defines physical spaces. Taking these developments as a starting point, the exhibition also addresses questions that dominate today’s discourse: How can designers, artists and architects utilize light in a way that protects our natural resources? How can we deal with the problem of excessive artificial lighting, or ‘light pollution’?
With its interdisciplinary approach, Lightopia shows how lighting design has influenced modern living spaces. The exhibition also explores the current paradigm shift and locates it within cultural history. As curator Jolanthe Kugler points out: Lightopia is the first exhibition that not only examines partial aspects of lighting design – such as light art or the design of luminaires – but also looks at the different facets of lighting design and places it in the context of current debates.
Lightopia is a project commissioned by the Vitra Design Museum in joint partnership with EDP Foundation. The exhibition was shown at Vitra Design Museum’s main building, in Weil am Rhein, in Espace Fondation EDF, in Paris, at Design Museum Gent, and at Hofmobiliendepot, Vienna, before arriving at MAAT, in Lisbon.
All photos and illustrations are mine except when other copyright indicated.