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A close-up of Bruno Munari

Great Masters | Bruno Munari

Bruno Munari (portrait)

Talking to Bruno Munari, an ironic, smiling eighty-year “boy” who plays with light

The search for the essential (“less is more”), an almost tormenting research of the entropy in reverse, that means, in conclusion, to regain an order. But as the kite that makes the wind “visible”, all of us have learnt from him to see more. And we have also learnt that it is possible to play and make – what a beautiful reference point, this “ludens and faber” together.

“One day I went to a stocking factory to see if they could make me a lamp. We don’t make lamps, they answered me. And I: you will see that you will make them” Bruno Munari

  • 1958 – “Bali” table lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari

Photo from above of the lit lamp(1958 – “Bali” table lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari – Photo courtesy: Catalogue Danese Milano)

  • 1959 – “Esagonale” pendant lamp for Danese Milano (now produced by Artemide) – Bruno Munari

Two Hexagonal pendant lamps(1959 – “Esagonale” pendant lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari – Photo courtesy: Catalogue Danese Milano)

  • 1961 – “Capri” pendant lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari

The Capri suspension lamp designed by Bruno Munari(1961 – “Capri” pendant lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari – Photo courtesy: Catalogue Danese Milano)

  • 1964 – “Falkland” pendant / floor lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari

The innovative Falkland suspension lamp
(1964 – “Falkland” pendant / floor lamp for Danese Milano – Bruno Munari – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Could you tell us about your “lighting” experience?

First, I would like to mention the Florence performance with light. I have also made research with polarized light – by an object that I call a polariscope – consisting of two strips of Polaroid 90° oriented one with respect to the other – therefore the colours which can be seen are always complementary. This is an object of dynamic art, of kinetic art, that I realized in the fifties. I prepared a few slides – with polarized light – like this (and he shows me a slide which has a Polaroid on one side, and the slide on other). The light ray is intercepted by a second Polaroid, I turn it and the colours change. I showed it to Mr Land, the Polaroid’s inventor in Cambridge, who was highly impressed and told me: “This is the Polaroid’s art, we should do something of that”. Because, you see, Land had always considered it as a replacement of Nicholas’s prisms, for microscope scanning, so that depending on materials thicknesses and structure colours were changed. But Land had never seen it under the aesthetic point of view.

I would like to ask you a rather difficult question, also because light, with its psychological components, involves different perceptions for everybody. Therefore, I would like to ask you which is your personal relation with this sophisticated “material”, and if it is important for you.

Yes, it is, under many aspects. As you see, for example, this room has no lamps. But look there, do you see something like a pocket with a glass over it? (This mention to one of his famous lamps brings at once Bruno Munari to one of his philosophy leit-motives, the diffused light, with no strong contrasts). He continues: “You see, often the source of light causes troubles, while it is the brightness with all its gradations that is important.
I had confirmation about that in Japan: the traditional Japanese house has a continuous window, consisting of a square wooden frame, covered with rice paper, which gives a delicate and beautiful light. Whilst we often have, in West, sharp contrasts, light – dark, light – dark. Or glass windows. Light, as well as acoustics, not always have been taken into due consideration by architects as far as the room concerned. We can mention as an example the acoustics of some restaurants … In conclusion: frankly speaking, I think that many people do not know how to use light.

Bruno Munari at work while setting up an exhibition at the Louvre museum(1970 – Paris – Louvre – Exhibition “Contenir regarder joure” – Bruno Munari – Photo courtesy: Book “La luce italiana”)

A rather polemical question on how to use light. Do you think that light, and illumination could be improved for a better way of living?

Yes, I do. Today light is badly used, also because many engineers do not architectural lighting design, but the lamps and the chandelier as object. As I told you before, I am explicitly in favour of a diffused brightness, where there can be more illuminated spots, but not “direct sources, of light against people”. This is a very important point. In my opinion, in the rooms where one lives should have the possibility to vary the light’s intensity (not by the rheostat, which is too mechanical, but by different light sources).
In practice, light could be “composed” depending on needs. For example ,if only a small lamp is on behind a furniture piece I get a brightness suitable to certain moments when I want to rest, if I have to work, then I need different light. In a restaurant downtown Milan, an architect asked me to help him in realizing restaurant lighting: a sit was in a covered courtyard, I realized something like a Fuller‘s dome-a-dome shaped structure but slightly “movable” and appearing as hanging. It consisted of one-meter side triangle, equilateral triangles of wooden ledges covered with jute, connected and hung up by wires. Above the structure, there were some lights of different kind (from incandescent to vapor lights, in many types) and some rheostats for light’s regulation so as, not to make it uniform and steady, but fluctuating and changing as when the clouds are passing by. Inside this room there were lightings of varying nature, slightly changing their intensity and shade. At the opening dinner, many people said: “I like these place because there is natural light …”.No fixtures, no tiny headlights in sight: only this sort of white triangle-shape dome, wholly bright, a sit outside the sun were shining. This is a way of using light as decorative effect-perhaps someone else would have painted the clouds on the ceiling, instead. I have realized the effect of clouds passage.

Should you design a fixture, which relation would you see between the fixture as an object in itself and its lighting function?

This question can have different replies, and not just one. Let’s say, the two ends of the problem are: either the object “disappears” as in the cases above-mentioned or seen, and then light in itself is important, or in the object has to be a “luminous sculpture”, then it is a completely different problem and anything would be suitable. I am always trying to give the object also a decorative function, but it should not be, for example, the “imposition” of a shape, a taste, a fashion: it will thus appear as a natural shape. For example, do you see that lamp covered with stitch? I have not sketched its shape, it has come out alone by stretch and weight. A light placed above iluminates the whole stitch up to the bottom thus creating wonderful luminous effects. Therefore, you see, if the object illuminated by the light source has a look with an aesthetician feature related to its material and shape, then there is a reason, its function is justified. I have also used light in another way, for emphasizing the harmonic structure of a painting by Raffaello at Brera, without touching the painting. Well, let’s suppose now to see the room where the painting “Lo sposalizio della Vergine” (The Virgin’s wedding) by Raffaello is shown. Its harmonic structure is related to its sizes – there is an inside geometry. I have got this harmonic structure craved on a perspex plate, six millimeters thick, by a small one-millimeter carving which ”sketched” the structure on the sheet. Now, as perspex is a good optic fibre, these sings become luminous. I asked Brera Academy the permission and I pulled four wires so as to from something like an “optical pyramid”. This (and Bruno Munari shows me a sketch of it is a pyramid section with the carving and with an almost invisible support. Here, there is a metal plate with a small hole and a plaque with the writing “Probable harmonic structure”. So one looks at the picture and, at the same time, is able to perceive the harmonic structure.

Light and music

  • 1980 | Florance | A light show

The light show in progress(1980 – Florance – A light show – Bruno Munari – Piero Castiglioni – Davide Mosconi – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni )

In December 1979 the Teatro Comunale di Firenze commissioned Bruno Munari to design a light show for the Scriabin Prometeo concert, which will be performed in the same theatre in March 1980. “Considering this request as a design project, Munari called Davide Mosconi, musician, and Piero Castiglioni, expert in lighting engineering, to participate in the design. The participation of the experts is indispensable to the success of a project. In Scriabin’s intentions, sounds and lights must simultaneously provoke a “different attention” in the audience, as can be seen in his notes. The violently yellow light of the sodium vapour lamp. The so-called black light, or Wood light, is actually a beautiful dark colour and makes the atmosphere like a purple mist. Stroboscopic lamps like many flashes of lightning, electric arc welding machines and finally the nikelchrome incandescent wires, used for the first time by Livio Castiglioni in the high ceiling of the staircase of the Triennale di Milano. Each of the light sources was used for its own colour. The technology marked the time of the chromatic modification of the light”. (1)

  •  1987 – Italy – Milan – Royal Palace : “Bruno Munari” antological exhibit

For this exhibition, architect Piero Castiglioni carried out the design part of the Special lighting effects.

(1) A show of light, Piero Castiglioni, Davide Mosconi, Bruno Munari, design notebooks, 1984, Zanichelli, Bologna

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