What is design today? And in the increasingly homogenized world that we live in, what does it mean to design and, importantly, produce and make objects locally? During Salone, London-based designer Christopher Jenner presented a lighting exhibition in Milan’s Area Sciesa that was perhaps more of a commentary on the the global and mass-produced world of today than it was about the actual objects designed.
Jenner is known for his exuberant designs including projects featured in Contract including Diptyche stores in London and New York [Contract, November 2012] and Penhaligon’s in London [Contract, July/August 2013].
For the week of Salone del Mobile in Milan, Jenner designed the eight-piece collection of hand-blown pendant light fixtures called Urbem in an installation called The Cloud. The design of each handmade triple-layered opal with glass shades draws inspiration from the forms of late 19th century Milanese street lighting. The installation of about 300 pieces simulates the effects of an ever-changing electrical storm [Click Here For Video], presenting the Urbem collection in a visually immersive display through the use of wireless LED and a reflective stainless steel vortex. Some might stop there and say, “nice light fixtures, but so what?”
The installation has a deeper, underlying message. As Jenner told me, he sought to have the fixtures made in Italy, but manufacturers he contacted could only produce a minimum run of about 10,000 units. He wanted 300 produced for the installation, and ultimately found a company in China that was willing and capable to produce the smaller quantity to his specifications. Thus, hand-made light fixtures that were inspired by the locally crafted Milanese lights of a bygone era had to be produced halfway around the world in China.
“I am inspired by the innovation of 19th century Europe where craft and technology collided to create many of the iconic hallmarks of the present day,” Jenner says. “Our future potential lies in uniting the achievements of our past with the possibilities of our contemporary age, as demonstrated through this collection.”
Jenner’s installation is a needed commentary to allow us to consider not just how cool and visually arresting designed objects can be, but also where they are made, under what conditions are they produced, and why our methods of production and business sometimes preclude local craft.