— Cultural Sources of Newness

Light and play

Last Friday I attended a conference organised by the Professional Lighting Design Association in Berlin and had the pleasure of listening to Maria João Pinto Coelho telling an inspiring story of an invention consisting of seven black boxes. They all look the same and contain interesting items like candles, artificial light sources, mirrors, pieces of wood or card board. They also come with instructions that invite anyone who will open them to playfully explore the powers of light in space.

The Game of Light will start whenever people join together round the boxes: “we’ll open them, we’ll read the instructions and… we’ll play!”

Source: http://www.eljuegodeluz.org/en/boxes/light-and-shadow

Source: http://www.eljuegodeluz.org/en/boxes/light-and-shadow

The invention is a Game of Light. Maria João Pinto Coelho has conceived, planned and orchestrated it together with her lighting designer colleague Ignacio Valero Ubierna. The idea was to create a research tool that would encourage a playful engagement with lighting techniques and technologies and their effects. Educative wooden toys developed by the German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel in the 19th century, the so called Froebel Gifts, were one source of inspiration.

In her presentation however, Maria João Pinto Coelho created suspense: Rather than revealing the content of the boxes to her audience, she opened the black-box of the design process for us. The boxes were developed and manufactured by seven lighting designers and seven students, grouped up in mixed teams of two. Before they could start, they were given instructions regarding the size and colour of the boxes (black with a light bulb symbol). Furthermore, the design task was that each of the seven boxes should address a specific light-related question:

  • Poetry in light – what kind of emotions can light deliver?
  • Space and perception of light – how does light affect our perception of space?
  • Light and Shadow – how can we play with contrasts, darkness and brightness?
  • Materials under the light – how does light change the appearance of materials?
  • Light and colors – how do we perceive color through light?
  • Drawing light with technology – how can you change the way in which light spreads?
  • (the box with no name) – what is lacking, overlooked or missing in lighting design?

Like the presenter herself, I will not go into the details of the boxes – they become much more tangible through the images on the website of the Game of Light. The website must suffice since the only two sets of boxes still reside in Mexico. There, they were successfully tested by an assembly of 250 lighting designers during the Encuentro Iberoamericano de Lighting Design EILD 2010. The plan is to ship one set of boxes to Europe some day in order to have one Game of Light on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. “But they are heavy”, says Maria João Pinto Coelho and has already moved on to new projects. The way she talks about the evolution and realization of her idea conveys another message: The game is on. The tool box is out in the world. Now, it is up to others to put it to use.