Karou Mende; The Culture of Lighting

“Re-design refers to a redoing of the design of ordinary objects…[in]… an attempt to look at familiar things as if it were our very first encounter with them.”

Human history is filled with different ways of classifying and understanding various aspects of nature. The element of fire is an enduring classification in this sense. Our interaction has changed over time. Past discoveries have become part of our normality.

Kaoru Mende a Japanese designer. Gained his bachelors and masters degree in “industrial and environmental design” at the University of Arts in Tokyo. In 1990 he became the founder and president of Lighting Planners Associates Inc. (LPA). The spectrum of his lighting works encompasses a wide range of landscapes from urban, architectural to environmental lighting. Mende focuses on the “culture of lighting” in all his works aiming to generate a thought provoking experience to any user who sees or interacts with his work.

(Karou Mende ‘Anniversary Matches’, Hara, K)

Mende’s ‘Anniversary Matches’ reveal’s a past culture of human interaction through our paleo relationship with fire. Fire was a major symbol of the time as it provided our ancestors with warmth and light. In the modern world the task of lighting a candle or a fire is a relatively simple task, involving the flick of a lighter or the swipe of a match.

“Letting our imagination run through time.” The re-design of the match by Mende aimed to challenge our thoughts. The match brings about feelings of power though their robust nature and earthliness. Giving the user an appreciation for the aesthetics. The newly designed matches entrusts new life into damaged twigs “prior to their return to the soil.” The design intension shows a contrast of our relationship with fire over time passed as primitive to modernity.

(Match Lamp, Plypetch, C. 2009)

Thai designer Chaiyut Plypetch in contrast examines human interaction with fire through the design of the ‘Match Lamp’. The design is a play on parody that also exemplifies the primitive nature of our ancestor’s relationship with fire as being a single light source that is placed in the home.

Human interaction with fire in the modern world reveals associations of fire with Love, Desire and Danger. It is when we most vulnerable these feelings are ignited. According to eminent designer and design writer Kenya Hara “the flame enshrines the possibility of both a ferocious, destructive power that can grow immensely.” The experience of Mende’s ‘Anniversary Matches’ poses their precious nature in comparison with human feelings. As the feelings associated with the matches are reminiscent of events of bringing loved ones together. The matches are only to be used on special occasions and celebrations.

(Ng, P. 2010, Matches)
(Ng, P. 2010, Matches)
(Ng, P. 2010, Matches)

Pei San Ng is an artist who develops instillations to symbolize ideas and form icons about particular environments. A series of pieces she developed features words written out with matchsticks, Ng claims that “In Chinese culture red is a very lucky color, matches evoke danger. I think that by mixing those two messages the audience is forced to take a second or third look. I want to tempt the viewer to destroy my artwork.”

The preciousness of the objects used to create these instillations challenges the viewer to contrast the word to the meaning. Visualising the symbol of a dollar sign that has been burnt conveys a world where money is evil. Seeing the artwork burnt reverses the meaning of the word. The instillation tempts the viewer to light the art just to figure out the exact meaning. While also contradicting cultural feelings associated with colour.

“Re-design is a means by which to correct and renew our feelings about the essence of design, hidden within the fascinating environment of an object that is so overly familiar to us that we can no longer see it.”

As human interaction with fire has evolved Mende has re-evoked the symbol of fire. Although the feeling of fire still existed in modern society. The historical ideals of fire have been redefined through Mende’s matches. The tactile nature of fire has been re-ignited with Mende’s ‘Anniversary Matches’ As the meaning of fire is virtually placed into the palm of the users had, revealing past interactions in the hopes they wont be forgotten.