As I enter the room, the lights are off and that immediately attracts me to a warm yellow light being casted by the object on display. As I lay my first glance on this work, I am pulled in by the glow and question the light emitting mechanism, as I see the light radiating uniquely. I take a moment to refresh my mind of the title and the materials list. “Surface Tension,” constructed with 3D Printed PLA, Spray Paint, 9" Steel Nails, Electronics, and a powered Arduino.
From two meters back, the lamp communicates a unique, elongated proportion divided horizontally in three. The top part is the light source taking on the form of a balloon, the bottom is a base in the shape of a hemisphere and sandwiched between is an array of vertically oriented nails. From this distance, the balloon-shaped bulb seems to be floating, but as I walk closer, I see it’s resting on the tips of the nails with the mouth of the balloon open, allowing electrical wires through. Aesthetically, there is something interesting there and the cabling could be reformatted, braided, or better enclosed for a more industrial designed finish.
Some details are polished, like the finishing on the base, while other details are left crude, such as the exposed electrical wiring. Each nail tip is unique, grinded down to a point, and those points direct me to the balloon lighting source. The underlying concept of this piece seems to be tension, as suggested by the title, “Surface Tension.” Surface tension is used to describe the interaction between low density and a high-density material that’s able to rest atop the lower density, creating an anti-gravity illusion. Like an insect walking on water, this work plays with this concept, as the balloon and nails have a visual tension-focused juxtaposition. Its current design is prototype-ish and doesn’t appear manufacturable, but with another few iterations, manufacturability constraints could be worked out. However, the remaining amount of finishing that could provide the refined aesthetic of a completed product design doesn’t detract from my ability to imagine what that might be like.
Transitioning now toward design intent, desired outcome, and opinions, as described earlier, the original intent of this work was to demonstrate a direction, a trajectory for my studio practice. I pushed certain things to their limits, such as 3D printing in contour mode. I also wanted to create a piece that involved emotion, and primarily through color. Color played a large role in the surface finishing of this piece, including the emitted light. The yellow was chosen through trial of several colors which consisted of purples, blues, and off-whites. I selected to work with colors that I describe as electric, trying to bring some energy to the work while leveraging the limited color range of LED lights. I also explored different levels of diffusion. The brightness chosen provided for a passivity that I find suitable for a table lamp of this nature. In addition to the yellow, the main body is a complimentary blue. This blue was chosen for precisely that reason. The term juxtaposition comes up often in our discussion and I use the nature of our human attraction of contrast to be carried throughout this work, hence the form of balloon and nails further reinforcing the contrast or juxtaposition seen in this piece.
The artist that inspired my trajectory most, the trajectory of lamp design at least, is Ingo Maurer. Maurer’s designs bring forth a whimsical, highly poetic approach to lighting, designing something that I see fits between a work of art and a mass manufacturable design. The goal I envisioned when creating this work was for something that can be resold on the Gantri website. Gantri is a lighting design company that licenses lamp designs from leading designers, studios, and brands from around the world. Their website provides creators, like me, a platform for selling lamp products. Their lamps are all 3D printed using natural materials, corn-based PLA, for example, and include creators such as Karim Rashid and SMART Design.
With every prototyped work of this nature, there is going to be an element of incompleteness. As a designer, I’ve come to find that the more dimensionally realistic something is, the easier it is to pick at its flaws. This is a very important insight that I’ve learned throughout my practice. Conversely, it’s harder to identify what isn’t working with a design that only lives in a 2-dimensional space.
While at Cranbrook, all my projects have been focused on realizing an idea in 3D or 4D. If there’s something I feel successful at, it’s that. However, most of my work has remained in a similar draft-like experimental state, enough for me to get my point across and move on. When reflecting on my prior lamp designs, I find myself getting to a progressively more finished, complete aesthetic.
Ingo Maurer was a German industrial designer who specialized in the design of lamps and light installations. He was nicknamed "poet of light."
Gantri is a lighting design company that licenses lamp designs from leading independent designers, studios, and brands from around the world. Including Karim Rachid, Louis Filosa, Muka Design Lab, and SMART Design, to name a few.