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A close-up of Nanda Vigo

Great Masters | Nanda Vigo

Nanda Vigo (portrait)

“Freedom has always been the basic point from the beginning. I have taken a few risks in life, but without freedom nothing can come out.” Nanda Vigo
Nanda Vigo was born in Milan on 14 November 1936. She grew up in an environment frequented by artists. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the Lausanne Polytechnic. After graduating…

Dialogue between Nanda Vigo and Franco Raggi – December 2003

What happened to you in the 1960s?
I don’t know about the 1960s, I can tell you about the 1940s. My enlightenment was the Casa del Fascio by Terragni, I saw it as a child during the war in Como, it was like discovering “Space”, a world of possibilities. Even afterwards, I always looked for those experiences that made art come out of the two dimensions.

What else did you discover in the Casa del Fascio?
The pictorial work of Mario Radice, the fact that architecture and painting could integrate, that they could merge, that the latter was not a secondary accessory of the former. And then Terragni left me this devotion to glass-cement that I have never left.

An imprinting like Konrad Lorenz’s geese; why glass cement?
Because of this possibility of transforming a wall, a volume into solid light.

Was painting important?
Painters were important. My father was a friend of Radice and also especially of De Pisis. I had an extraordinary understanding with De Pisis. He taught me the importance of research, precision, love and everything.

But in the end you didn’t paint?
I had to do it at the Academy, but painting didn’t… didn’t pay off, it wasn’t enough for me: more than a third dimension I needed to involve the viewer, the person… involve them physically, emotionally, and space and architecture allow you to do that. That’s why I loved Ponti, for this rare ability not to conceive of a separation between ways of doing things.

But you didn’t go to Ponti?
No, after graduating in Lausanne I left for America, I went to Taliesin West to see Frank Lloyd Wright. I thought I was going to find a great teacher, a human being, but instead I found an authoritarian fundamentalist who treated everyone badly and the students very badly, and even beat them with a stick. In short, I didn’t like him at all.

So what did you do?
I ran away to San Francisco to work for a big architectural firm, they were building the Zellerbach Building, a skyscraper. (…)

What did you do?
For two months they put me in charge of designing only lockers, hundreds of lockers, something absurd, alienating. (…) I wasn’t interested and I ran away again, but in reverse.

Dialogue between Nanda Vigo and Franco Raggi (1)

Lucio Fontana and Nanda Vigo at an exhibition( Nanda Vigo with Lucio Fontana – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

In late 1958 and early 1959 she returned to Milan, where she met Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Ugo La Pietra and Gio Ponti and frequented the Brera group of artists. In 1962 he began working with Lucio Fontana. While working as an architect and designer, Nanda Vigo developed the concept of Chronotopia, a way of intervening in space through the use of light. From this moment on, her works cross the interdisciplinary field: architecture, art, design and environment. He won several international awards such as the New York Award of Industrial Design in 1971 for the “Golgen Gate” lamp. He teaches at the Lausanne Polytechnic, the European Institute of Design in Milan and the Brera Academy. (2)

Electric light

Why do you prefer artificial light?
Because you can design it better, you can change it, in an all-white house for example by mixing lights it can become all green, all red, all blue.

And why neon?
Because everything you can’t do with a light bulb you can do with neon. The light bulb is a fixed point, neon is a line that you can turn as you like. And then I’m interested in diffused light, in impalpable, suspended light, which you don’t know where it comes from but is matter in space.

Why so many mirrors in your work?
Because they multiply light and then it is the most abstract, most ambiguous design object.

Do you find that in lamp design today the luminous object is favoured over the lighting performance?
I have always tried to design with diffused light, so I don’t like the light bulb. I like architecture that makes light. This frame of light is a lamp from 1972, and I don’t think anyone has understood it yet. It is an object that “also” makes light.

Dialogue between Nanda Vigo and Franco Raggi (1)

Architecture, Art, Design and Environment

  • 1964 – Milan – Palazzo dell’Arte Triennale – “XIII Triennale” – Utopias

(1964 – Milan – Palazzo dell’Arte Triennale “XIII Triennale” – Utopias – Nanda Vigo – Lucio Fontana – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 1965 – ’68 – Malo – Vicenza – The house under the leaf

View of the interior of the house under the leaf(1965 – ’68 – Malo – Vicenza – The house under the leaf – Nanda Vigo – Gio Ponti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Gio Ponti published a project for a house in his magazine, Domus, offering it free of charge to anyone who financed its construction. A collector of modern art (works by Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani, Gruppo Zero) Giobatta Meneguzzo seizes the opportunity and asks Ponti to build it in Malo, Vicenza. Nanda Vigo works on the interiors and architectural lighting design of the residence known as “Lo scarabeo sotto la foglia” (The beetle under the leaf). An experimental environment, covered in tiles and eco-fur, where the artists’ works converge in an integrated manner.

What was the light like?
Neon, white neon tubes, indirect, all around the perimeter, a way of dematerialising the edges, the limits of the volumes.

In the end you created an almost monometric, monochromatic, geometric space, all white tiles: don’t you think that, compared to Ponti’s tolerant hypothesis, your design is a bit out of hand, imposing on the client a definitive, somewhat rigid vision in which there is no room for evolution or change?
We discussed these interiors for two years, and in the end I convinced him, because this space interprets and welcomes the collector’s opportunity, for whom space is for works of art … the collection is a total fact, a vision, …

Dialogue between Nanda Vigo and Franco Raggi (1)

She collaborated with Arredoluce in the early 1970s, directed at the time by Leli, with whom she had a great deal of complicity. These lamps, in addition to their function as objects that diffuse light, inhabit space like sculptures. Some lamps have become design icons. (2)

  • 1970 – “Golden Gate” floor lamp for Arredoluce – Nanda Vigo

Detail of the Goldengate lamp designed by Nanda Vigo(1970 – “Golden Gate” floor lamp for Arredoluce – Nanda Vigo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

A neon arc develops on a metal stem. The originality of this lamp is due to the installation of an LED in the cilinder of the base. At the time, these LEDs were only used by NASA, specially purchased in the United States. It became the archetype of the pop years.

  • 1971 – “Osiris” floor lamp for Arredoluce – Nanda Vigo
  • 1972 – “Manhattan” floor lamp for Arredoluce – Nanda Vigo

The Osiris Manhattan lamp for Arredoluce(Osiris” and “Manhattan” floor lamp for Arredoluce – Nanda Vigo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

The studio in via Presolana 5 working with Nanda Vigo in 1973, on the occasion of the XV Triennale.

  • 1973 – Milan – Palazzo dell’Arte Triennale – “XV Triennale”

Entrance to the 15th Milan Triennale(1973 – Italy – Milan – Palazzo dell’Arte Triennale – “XV Triennale” – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)

For the 15th Triennale, the Scalone d’onore (Staircase of Honour) at Palazzo dell’Arte, set up by Giulio Confalonieri and Nanda Vigo with the luminous Sigla dell’Esposizione (Seal of the Exhibition) by Livio and Piero Castiglioni in the centre. “In the staircase, the back wall of the first landing was occupied by a large luminous panel, made up of 855 silver light bulbs, some of which switched on and off at set intervals, leaving a large luminous 15, the 15 of the 1973 Triennale”. (3) The atrium and staircase were set up to serve as a meeting place for the public and artists.

Who are the masters of early Italian design besides Ponti?
… no one … no, Livio Castiglioni, he was curious, open, innovative, he experimented and used innovation poetically, he was a practical theorist and taught everything to his brothers.

Dialogue between Nanda Vigo and Franco Raggi (1)

(1) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Nanda Vigo and Franco Raggi published in Flare – Architectural Lighting Magazine – n°34 – December 2003 – page 12.
(2) Nanda Vigo. “Nanda Vigo: Light is Life”, 2006, Milan, Johan & Levi Editore.
(3) Domus, 530, January, 1974

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