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In early April, the first round of fairs in 2017 concluded with the Salone del Mobile. Cologne, Paris, Stockholm, Frankfurt and then Milan: it’s time to join the dots on the map and see how the future’s shaping up. Four months of splendour on tour around Europe, leading to the prominence of one idea of light - or rather, two.
A dark-coloured rod supports clearly imbalanced glass domes and spheres of light. Rings of light constantly intersect each other; their irregular shape appears to comply with the force of gravity. Light isn’t illuminating anything, it’s speaking about itself. And what’s it saying?
To diminish what we’ve seen in these first four months of the year by simply talking about a nouvelle vague in lighting would perhaps be correct, but it’s also superficial. Even though 2017 has seen - as often occurs - an implicit convergence of designers and the most celebrated and acclaimed names in lighting, the point of contact is not a colour or a material; it’s far more exalted than usual: it’s abstract. This year, light is art.
The lighting created for 2017 is all spectacle and surprise; it’s a life force that can shape spaces and forge new dimensions. It has an intensely scenographic flavour which is perhaps more relevant to restaurants and elegant hotels than to the domestic setting.
But this is undoubtedly creativity in its purest form; this is design returning to its expression as an art form dedicated to everyday life, and it accomplishes this so explicitly that we’re forced to reflect, as soon as we finish marvelling. Just as it was in the avant-garde experimental days that laid the foundations for the new technological revolutions. Could it be the fault of the LED?
It’s an extremely fascinating drift towards art, and nicely counterbalanced. Who should I go to when I want to light my desk for work or my table for dinner? The same designers and manufacturers as before. Because in 2017 light - when it’s not art, source of wonder and inspiration - is technology; it’s home automation. This is light at the service of humans without compromise: functional and efficient.
The most striking examples of the nascent landscape of the Internet of Things are the smartphone apps displayed at the fairs by individual lighting firms: integrated lighting systems with remote control, designed to be functional and fun - at least it seemed that way to me at the Salone, when I spent a good ten minutes rotating and adjusting the ceiling lights at the Flos stand at Euroluce 2017, by fiddling with an iPad.
Lighting manufacturers are taking a huge leap towards the future: the abundance of own-brand systems on offer - in a kind of arms race - is the litmus test for a new technology that’s starting to spread through the market.
In any event, the fact that producers are investing around the edges of their main activity - in software for lighting control - is the sign that 2017 is digital. And the years to come too.