Ingo Maurer (born 1932) has been one of the world’s leading figures in the field of lighting design for decades. Curator Jolanthe Kugler spoke with him about his oeuvre and the evolution of lighting design.
For almost fifty years, you have introduced surprising new designs on an annual basis. What brought about the design of your very first lamp?
I had just received a commission that took me to Venice. While I was there I enjoyed a wonderful meal and drank a whole bottle of red wine with it. Then I went up to my room and there was this naked light bulb hanging there. It was like a ... coup de foudre! Still half drunk, I drew a sketch of a lamp. The next day I travelled to Murano with this idea in my pocket. When I got home, I designed a base made of pressed metal to go with it: the Bulb lamp was born!
How did things develop after that?
At that point in time, I still placed a great emphasis on the form of an object, similar to great Italian designers like Achille Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti. But I noticed quite quickly that the quality of light is more important to me than the form, and so I began to concentrate on that. Then my fan lamps (Uchiwa I, 1973) came into fashion – also an interesting story. I travelled to Japan and met a great master of fan artistry, Shigeki-San. Even though we couldn’t talk to each other, there was an amazing intuitive understanding between us. This is how I slipped into Japanese culture, and that brought me even closer to the topic of light.
For every important theme in the past fifty years of lighting design, your workshop has made some technical contribution or introduced a stylistic innovation. Where did you get the idea for YaYaHo?
That was on a New Year’s morning in Haiti, where I was staying with friends. There was a small outdoor square with a huge hanging light bulb welded directly to the wire, without a plug or any other connection. I was so entranced by it, so fascinated, that I wanted to make something like it. When I got back to New York, we started experimenting with the idea, stretching cables to see what it might look like.
In your designs, the most innovative technology is very often combined with conventional lighting typologies or archaic light sources, like My New Flame (with Moritz Waldemeyer, 2012)...
That mostly happens on an unconscious level; generally I’m far removed from intellectual considerations... Designs with new technologies emerge from experimentation. One time, when I made a sketch of a chandelier on a napkin, I started to think: this should really shine and sparkle. That’s how we arrived at the LEDs, a technology that had already been developed by General Electric in 1906. But collaboration with other people is also important – it leads to new ideas and new approaches, like My New Flame (2012) with Moritz Waldemeyer.
Along with LEDs, we also observe an increasing use of OLED lamps. Do you see a great future in this development?
This definitely presents new challenges for lighting design. For example, one could create works with a strong graphic character. I would use OLEDs in combination with another light source or as an integrated part of a colourful surface, in a very playful way. I am currently working on a new design with OLEDs which is actually conceived as an outdoor product. I have already found a solution for the technical requirements, but I still need to work on the design aspects...