Cocooning light

As living organisms our existence is reliant upon light, which can be as dangerous as it can be pleasing! Light simply holds our entire life in its spell and it is not strange that this reliance has a big influence on design of lamps and why it for inventors, designers and architects has become a fascination with regard to understanding and using light. Ironically, since the incandescent light bulb or electrical powered light designers have been occupied with how to hide the bulbs behind shades of infinite shapes and materials in an attempt to increase the quality of artificial light we so greedily consume when the sun sets behind the horizon. Ironically, the light we create is a recreation of the light from the sun emitting light sparked by an electrical energy into a material undergoing a metamorphosis from black matter to glowing light spreading in a granulate of electromagnetic waves of white light in all directions. Like a silkworm in a cocoon and in a way to skulk the source of light reminding that light can be a blinding danger to the same eyes for which light can be a pleasing and sensible enriching exploration of the world. The known and comforting pleasures of perceiving space and objects, colours and shapes and not least shadows putting a pause to light. “We see only a part, but fancy that we have grasped the whole” I imagine that Empedocles suggest that we take a better and deeper look at what we think to see.

In this field of tension between danger and pleasure, protection and aesthetic design get fertilized and especially when physical circumstances force human creativity and intelligence to remedy hazards, then design is at its core eligibility. It is exactly the balance between too much and too little light that through time has been the cause of inventing human made light sources and designing lamps that shield the provided light in a kind of good will protectionism. In the same way as the Inuit people were confronted with the power of light in all its alternate scarring and pleasing appearances, it explains human precautions through design to shield the extreme power of light has on a sensible and fragile eye.

Living at the top of the world, sunshine increases in late winter and spring and an unhindered reflection of UV light into the eyes can lead to Photokeratitis or snow blindness if the amount of radiation isn’t in some way diminished. To protect themselves the Inuits created, assumedly 2000 years ago, very simple goggles to protect their eyes from the painful sun burn of the retina. The simple slides carved into the goggles reduce the amount of UV light reaching the wearer’s eyes, while still providing a wide range of vision. It might even have helped focus the wearer's visions like a permanent squint to improve the visual acuity. Designing lamps seems in a way to be subject to the same conditions since the electric filament bulbs enlightened the darkest corners of our planet.

Despite we can’t really ever imagine what light is we still happily accept that light is all we see and the rest happens in our brains. In 1665, Francesco Maria Grimaldi, an Italian Jesuit priest made the first ever experiment into splitting light. He conducted the simple experiment resulting in a feast of colours on a white screen in his dark study. The results of this experiment occupied the minds of several generations of physicists, including Newton and Einstein. The experiment showed that light entering a dark room through a small slit and projected onto a white screen created two or three rays of colours. He assigned the term “diffraction” to the phenomenon. Since then we know that sunlight or light from a candle or an incandescent light bulb is not only white, it is a rainbow of colours in more than one sense because even the visible light which appears to be white in color, consists of almost all wavelengths of light within the visible spectrum being violet light with a wavelength of 400–420 nm. Indigo light: 420–440 nm. Blue light: 440–500 nm. Cyan light: 500–520 nm. Green light: 520 – 565 nm. Yellow light: 565–590 nm. Orange light: 590–625 nm. Red light: 625–700 nm. Near-infrared radiation a wavelength of 700–1.4 μm.

We know, not only by common sense, that these colours constitute natural light and are the highest quality of light to be achieved from electric light sources. In a remarkable hyper sense we feel that exactly this light is the light that stimulates our sense of vision and contributes to our understanding of the beauty of our surroundings. Yes, even far beyond.

For any designer or user of lamps the light source and its ability to create a full rendered spectrum of colors must be the essential point of focus when judging light quality. Strange enough, we actually can’t find better light sources than the candle and the incandescent light bulb that comes even close to the rainbow. From fluorescent light tubes and its compact versions to LED and in all its variations of qualities, they might not live up to the light of a sun, a candle or an incandescent light bulb. They are sources of lesser light but brilliant power savers. Ironically the incandescent light has been condemned and prohibited in many countries around the globe due to their enormous consume of energy. Light and economy was a sealed pact since 1879 when Edison turned on the light of the future and power cables as nerve strings were growing into every corner of the globe. Economy and how to manufacture power to lighten factories, offices, streets and small homes resulted in an excessive consume and liberalized democratisation which went hand in hand with profitability. It was a fact that Edition brought us 10% light and 90% heat and to cocoon the liberalized consumer and save them from an ecologic disaster Edison was out and so was quality light. Eventually the times have again come to cocooning light or bending it in a new direction?

The simple act of placing a candle inside a translucent hollow object could be considered the source of all lamp designs and time hasn’t changed much to our perception of what lamps should look like to be considered a lamp. It has even taken infinite detours of shapes and materials but it hasn’t changed the principle of shielding the light source from our eyes. I consider the lantern as we know them from Asia to be the mother of all shaded lamps. Evolving from a simple and practical human consideration, it fascinates that a practical solution, securing that the cocooned candle wasn’t extinguished by wind or by rain and snow, turned out to become an icon of all lamp designs to follow. It isn’t surprising that both light and lanterns throughout Asia over time became the source and subject of endless myths, although the immediate and practical purpose to avoid the candle to extinguish, as in many examples of great design, putting it down to sheer functionality. This is where my madetostay lamps take their inspiration.

Historic sources are of the confidant opinion that lanterns appear exactly in the year 230BC. Whether or not we can actually determine the exact year of creation, and if we can trust that the first lantern spread its bright light somewhere in southern China only, is rather doubtful. But it is likely that the first Chinese lanterns were covered with silk or a yellowish translucent animal skin over a geometrical bamboo frame since these materials were at hand long before paper. The earliest known example of silk fabric is from 3630 BC, and comes from a Yangshao site in Qingtaicun at Rongyang, Henan province, China. The well-known paper lanterns cannot have been created before the year AD 105 because paper wasn’t available before a certain Mr. Cai Lun, a Han dynasty Chinese eunuch and official, invented the composition of paper along with the papermaking process. Legend has it that Cai Lun got inspiration for making paper from watching paper wasps make their nests.

The shape of a paper wasps nest can become a cocooning of candles light and end up as a lantern seems in a creative mind a reasonable alibi of inspiration. An inspiration that would spread as light all over Asia from China, Korea to Japan and beyond and become the foundation for a long tradition in the making of paper lanterns. Paper lanterns and even the Chinese silk lanterns inspired designers and architects throughout history most notably modernist designers and architects such as the American designer and sculpture Isamu Noguchi.

In the tradition of the Japanese Gifu lanterns, Noguchi began designing his AKARI series of lanterns in 1951. With the warm glow of light cast through hand-made mulberry paper on a bamboo frame, Isamu Noguchi utilized traditional Japanese materials to bring modern design to the home. He described the result of his work with the words; “The light of AKARI is like the light of the sun filtered through the paper of shoji. The hardness of electricity is thus transformed through the magic of paper back to the light of our origin—the sun—so that its warmth may continue to fill our rooms at night.” Noguchi wrote, Akari are "poetic, ephemeral, and tentative." And he was fond of saying, "All that you require to start a home is a room, a tatami, and Akari. "

In the middle of the 1940s another modernist lamp design the Danish Le Klint lamps were as well taking m    inspiration from lanterns. Not only from the paper lanterns but the Japanese art of folding paper into three-dimensional geometrical shapes, known as origami. The Architect and brother to the founder of the Le Klint company Kaare Klint designed in 1944, what became the icon of the company. The lamp was named the Fruit Lantern and became one of those design objects from Danish designers that would identify Danish modernism beside a number of his furniture. It was the father P.V. Jensen-Klint who already in 1901 set out to fold paper shades for his ceramic artefacts turned into lamps. It became for the Klint family a kind of leisure activity and was used as gifts for friends and families until the demand got so big that the son Tage Klint decided to establish a company, somewhat in the early 1940s. The other son Kaare Klint became a professor and founder of the furniture department at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and is seen as the father of Danish furniture design. Pupils of Kaare Klint such as Børge Mogensen, Hans Wegner and Poul Kjærholm carried on his legacy and became the big names in what became Danish Design and up until today inhabit homes from Japan to the US.

Another American designer and architect George Nelson developed in the early 1950s a series of lamps for the Howard Miller Corporation named the bubble lamps. It was based on a material developed for the US army by the R. M. Hollingshead Corporation and had the ability that it could be sprayed over a metal wire structure making up the shape of light shades. The use of the cocooning material and the simple genius construction of the metal frame offered the manufacture, as advised by Nelson, to make an industrialized mass production and the lamps became an indisputable success. The lamp has in the past years got its renaissance due to its ever lasting sculptural and simplistic geometrical design and its beautiful light. It is claimed that the relation to the Noguchi Akari lamps had an influence on the design of the bubble lamps and it might not be far fetched since Nelson and Noguchi very well knew each other. But Noguchi’s lamps were opposite to Nelson’s based on an old Japanese crafting tradition whereas the bubble lamps resembled industrialised production with modern materials. In 2015, after a long-standing dispute about copyright and patent rights, the George Nelson Foundation & Herman Miller USA agreed with Modernica Inc. to take over the production and distribution. The production still takes place in the same production sites as before, even under the new ownership, thus still with the original tools from the old times. This has ensured a consistent quality over the years and Nelson's legacy as one of the foremost American designers and architects will again enlighten homes with its beautiful soft light.

The George Nelson lamps should as well in Europe become a source for inspiration. Apparently making use of the same material a certain Arturo Eisenkeil, a European importer of the special polymer made in the United States, was looking for similar applications in Italy. With the Castiglioni brothers and the architect Tobia Scarpa’s exploration of the material to also create lighting, he is told to have joined forces with Dino Gavina and Cesare Cassina to form a company to produce these designs – resultantly, the lighting company Flos was created in 1962. The Gatto, Viscontea and Taraxcum lamps were part of the iconic range of early 1960s lighting designs from Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni took its inspiration from George Nelson’s structurally similar lamps for the Howard Miller Company. But the lamp design from the two brothers still in production by Flos, shows Castiglioni’s remarkable approach to design was of a fundamental different character than the Nelson lamps. Castiglioni’s oeuvre shows that form and function are the main concern for his successful design but they cannot be the designer's only concerns, Castiglioni noted. Paola Antonelli Associate Curator at the Department of Architecture and Design at MOMA commented in her introduction to the Castiglioni solo exhibition in1997; “Applying his philosophy and methodology with wit, curiosity, and a combination of exuberance and understatement Castiglione has, with his purist yet playful and individual objects, helped to update modernist design to contemporary modern”. Tobia Scarpa who as well contributed to the development of the reputation of Italian design of what Paola Antonelli calls contemporary modern was born in Venice, Italy in 1935. Together with his wife Afra, they launched their careers working for Venini glassworks, for which his father Carlo Scarpa made some of the most beautiful icons of Vinini’s glass designs. In 1960s the couple founded their own office and since then, Tobia Scarpa collaborated with his wife on designs for nearly every major international company, including FLOS, Cassina, Knoll, and B&B. In their career, the duo has developed a vocabulary for accessible design based on technology and a wide variety of materials. With the Fantasma and Chrysalis floor lamp for Flos they make use of the cocooning material in an entire different sculptural approach than the Castiglioni’s.

Working in China in the beginning of 2005, I happened to visit a silk weaving mill and got fascinated by the silk worms ability to cocoon themselves in one seemingly infinite, thinner than hair, long thread of silk. The shape of the cocoons, its softness, its whitish colour and its translucency when held against the light, was flickering  through my head. Returning home with a couple of silk cocoons in my pockets I went through one of old Shanghai's narrow lanes shortly after the lantern festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year, where a couple of red leftover silk lanterns were swaying in a cold wind. Cocoons in my pocket and the imagination of the metamorphoses of the silkworm altering from a larva into a moth breaking through the woven shell of the cocoon, underwent in my fantasies an imaginary metamorphoses. Cocoons versus lanterns, a tiny light of life inside the cocoon preparing for an escape as fully developed lively light beams spreading through the weaved cocooning shield turning out as a newborn glaring wonder of nature became a imaginary foundation for cocooning lamps. 

The next day my assistant Yueyu and I began researching and sketching lanterns in our studio. The madetostay cocooning lamp project was underway. It became the beginning of a long development of ideas and concepts oscillating between the cocooning of light sources, translucency of materials, an examination of classical optical geometry of reflection and refraction. Not least an indulging in imaginative fantasies, myths and scientific insight on light and what it can do to enhance our perception and the beauty of what we see and feel when diffused light is banishing darkness into the corners of a room and provides every single object of desire with a shadow making them even more familiar…yes, in some way touching our soul in an aesthetic indulging way.

Lanterns are in China supposed to symbolize joy, good fortune, longevity and the gift to exorcise evils. Longevity was in this project in demand lasting 9 years before it could be realised, all commercial evils banished and the joy of seeing the first prototypes shine with an inner glow in the summer of 2017. It was years after our first designs that I found myself in the small village Resana, an hour northwest of Venice searching for the company Krelamp to whom I had sent my lamp drawings. Firstly, I met with the the owner of the company Mr. Bellini whom took me to the spraying room filled with cocooned lamps and white steel frames ready to be sprayed. The two girls in their white dresses spraying the metal frames with silk like string reminded me of dancers in the ballet Les Sylphides which I in my childhood had seen on my grandparents black and white TV. It seemed as if the two girls like in the ballet were dancing in the moonlight where my lamps became the protagonist the “poet” spinning around himself. The strings coming out of the spraying pistol levitated in elegant parable bows onto the rotating frame and the longer the spinning pirouette went on the more the web resembled a silk cocoon. Put aside on big racks in the spraying room the web dried and a small tension started to create extraordinary beautiful double curved planes between the wires, my excitement was boiling! When the final last two protecting layers of fluent polymers was sprayed on to the web, the sun sent ultra hot light beams through the room’s windows and illuminated the lamp-cocoons reminding me of the day in the silk mill on the other side of the globe. Not far from Venice… silk… cocooning… the road to China… the true or untrue story of Marco Polo… and the warm light a sparkling joy arose…it was not an illusion…it was the essence of a long waiting for an aesthetic moment. 

The Snowball lamp, the Trumpet and the Bud. Lantern, Upside Down and finally Bat were all there in the three dimensional cocooning… waiting for light.

Mr Bellini took me to the metal workshop where the T-house lamp waited for inspection. With his big hands he juggled the aluminium shades in the air with proud confidence meanwhile saying something in Italian ending with “bellissimo”. We agreed and discussed how to make the emitting light cone adjustable. The first madetostay collection was physically there and became a rite of passage reasserted by Mr. Bellini’s “bellissimo” and the dancing Sylphides sprayers.