The Design Files + Laminex Design Awards: Looking at Australian lighting through the lens of contemporary art.
Every year, eager art and design fans anticipate The Design Files + Laminex Design Awards results, which surveys the diversity of creativity across Australia. This year, the finalists are in, and the effect is just as dazzling.
In particular for the lighting category, the viewer is invited to consider the multi-dimensionality of the handcrafted. Are the pieces design or art? For one of the judges, co-founder of ISM Objects Celina Clarke — whose work is held in collections at MOMA New York, the Powerhouse Museum NSW & the National Gallery of Victoria — this sense of surprise is one of her judging criteria. “That feeling of seeing something new and innovative in either form, detail, manufacturing or finish,” Clarke says.
However, there is a balance of design to be considered. “Having been immersed in the lighting design for more than 30 years, I have a very good understanding of the challenges that need to be overcome to design, produce and get a product to market,” the designer explains. “It’s so much more than the aesthetics to create a production item.”
Fellow judge Christopher Boots, whose iconic lighting features quartz crystal, agrees. “As a judge, I’m looking for a certain amount of originality in design . . .
Interestingly, both designers consider the role of technology in lighting and how this will transform the industry. Clarke shares that new advancements allow for exploration into light, color, and control systems, which in turn help to create mood, emotion and enhance our wellbeing. “There is much research into the effects of light and color temperature, circadian rhythms, and our health. Lighting products can be used to create ambience and bring environments to life,” she maintains.
Boots continues, “LED technology allows a ‘light’ to be made from virtually any material: an upcycled object, recycled materials mashed together — the possibilities are infinite. The medium of light itself, however, remains a core element . . . We’re seeing lights beyond the core function to provide ‘light’ and provide a more human need for physical references for our needs of comfort, of nesting: as objects, sculptures, and artworks.”
When it comes to the finalists, Alex Earl’s entry captures the ethereal qualities of light within sensitive structures — each one formed of a unique glass casting process, suspended on brass. And the designer’s sentiments mirror the judges. “Lighting provides a fantastic opportunity for artistic expression, as using light within objects can unlock an elemental response in the viewer, as well as fundamentally transforming spaces,” he shares.
“I think it’s important to remain humble and realize that we’re all in our own way responding to a universe that defies complete understanding and provides us with only a precious, narrow opportunity to create things that capture some of the ephemeral beauty of our experience on this world, and to communicate it to others,” Earl adds.
Ross Gardam also continues these themes of the organic and ephemeral with his lighting installations. The Arbour Linear Pendant features solid walnut, rock maple or oak capped with champagne-hued anodized aluminum. Minimal in their aesthetics, Gardam recognizes his pieces verge on the boundary of art and design, taking inspiration from James Turrell, Jan Fabre, and Anish Kapoor. Akin to Earl, he sees the connection of lighting as one of an emotional response. “There is a constant thread that runs through the products; I am intrigued by the emotional connection people have with objects,” he reveals.
Likewise, Marta Figueiredo is influenced by the Light and Space movement as she sees her process as sculpting with light, reflecting on artists like James Turrell and Peter Alexander, who began researching light as a medium for altering perception and influencing sensory experience. In her Stardust lamp, Figueiredo uses the sensory effect of materials to an intriguing result. “Playfulness, color, complexity, and sensory exploration are probably the common thread,” she muses. “I’m interested in pushing the boundaries of what an object is traditionally thought to be.”
Edward Linacre also seems to invite the playful into his designs. The pieces appear like a vibrant, geometric sun, hypnotizing with its complex formation of pattern and shape. Unsurprisingly, nature plays an integral part in Linacre’s designs, looking towards the Fibonacci sequence — found in Angelfish ovaries to galaxies.
“I have a keen interest in Dali and the surrealism movement, and visionary psychedelic artists like Alex Grey; exploring our existence in this universe, alternate dimensions and states of consciousness,” Linacre explains. “There is no doubt in my mind all living things are connected in some way, through time and space, bound to each other, to our planet, extending throughout the universe.”
Linacre uses weaving in his process, as does designer Ivana Taylor. Wrapped Gestures Light follows an organic form; soft curves are bound with interlacing textiles. Here, she evokes a gentle sensual tactility that invites touch. Taylor reflects on her designs, “the practical and symbolic understanding of lighting means it can be used beautifully for functional art. I’m greatly inspired by the Campana Brothers and how they use form and materials to communicate a narrative . . . Visualizing relationships and interaction through wrapped forms allows curiosity and sometimes even story and symbolism in the piece.”
She adds, “the use of basic but beautifully sculptural textiles to interact and thereby soften rigid structures as well as capitalize on the natural channel (ideal for lighting) and the exposure of the inner structure that occurs when swallowing it in textiles.”
As each of these designers reveal, lighting can not only serve as beautiful design but also evoke mood, emotion, and sensory perception, akin to the realms of art. Seen since the 1960s Space and Light movement and the Surrealists ‘takeover’ of design objects, lighting as art is not necessarily a novel idea; however, the new threads emerging in technology means this field can be pushed like never before.