Kaoru Mende – Designing with Fire

“I was interested in designing the relationship between people and light” – Kaoru Mende.

In a society driven by artificial light, are we able to find a way back to the beauty in natural light?

Japanese designer, Kaoru Mende has been working with light as a source of innovative but organic design since 1987. The importance surrounding lighting design has moved towards ideas based on improving quantity of light and their fixtures. Mende has always been uninterested in this concept; working out ways to restore the relationship between humans and fire as a source of light. “Everything to be seen by myself from that time has been food to fuel my lighting designs” (Mende, 2008). Through the development of lighters, candles and matches, fire has become an object of disposability being readily available at any point of time. Think about the possibilities for beautiful design that can be created if we take advantage of fires accessibility. Inspired by designing with “the fire that lies closest to home”, Mende has created a set of “Anniversary Matches”. They have been made by coating twigs with a red combustible substance to mimic the traditional match. They are to be used at special occasions such as anniversaries and birthdays and resemble a “final role given to the twig before returning to the soil” (MMP, 2011). By referencing the basic source of fire from wood, Mende forces us to consider our relationship with fire over thousands of years.

Kaoru Mende - Anniversary Matches
Kaoru Mende – Anniversary Matches

His fascination with this interaction has developed over many years with an initial exploration being presented at the ‘Creator’s Candle Design Exhibition in 2004. His artwork, “Eroding Paraffin Lake” experimented with the properties of wax and its ability to support the natural light of fire. It consisted of a flat white wax surface with blue candles embedded along the top edge. As the candles burn, the blue and white wax melts, mixing with one another to create a “blue lake” with many flickering orange flames on the surface. The piece worked to demonstrate the beauty and quantity of light that could be created through a manipulation of fire. He wished to highlight that the design wasn’t “just about the form of the candles but the meaning of candles, [and] enjoying firelight as the candles burned down…” (Mende, 2004). He emphasises that his passion for lighting design is only appreciated by considering design as “not just an idea but [as a element of] an overall concept, cost, production timeframes, and manufacturing technology” (Mondo, 2008).

Kaoru Mende – Eroding Paraffin Lake

As Mende continues to develop his design practice he expresses the importance to “learn from natural light!” (Mende, 2008). He acknowledges the endless possibilities for experimentation and innovation that lighting designers are presented with; believing you “cannot exceed beyond the “technology” of nature light. Lighting design “created by natural light is incredibly profound and offers a [valuable] source of inspiration for all of us” (Mende, 2008). If we only looked at the basic tools of fire at the palm of our hand, we could create and expand a world of lighting with unlimited opportunities.