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Design

The Fragility of Equilibrium Is a Finely Balanced Light Sculpture

Austrian design studio mischer'traxler's kinetic installation needs perfect equilibrium to shine bright.

by Kevin Holmes
Sep 14 2016, 1:40pm


Photo: Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein Copyright: Austria Design Net

Utopia is the theme that ties together the exhibits at the inaugural London Design Biennale currently taking place at Somerset House. 37 countries explore the concept in various artworks and designs, and one country's contribution takes the ideas of balance and harmony and transposes them into a precarious light sculpture.

LeveL – the fragile balance of utopia is the contribution from Austria and specifically design studio mischer'traxler—Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler—and was organized by the Austria Design Net. It takes the form of a kinetic installation, a hanging mobile of 126 fluctuating balloon-shaped lights. As visitors enter the 131' space, they influence the luminosity, which brightens or dims, reacting to the movements, be it human or the wind rushing through. 


Photo: Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein Copyright: Austria Design Net

"The installation visualizes how we would describe and understand utopia," explains the pair to The Creators Project. "Utopia is something that we all should strive for and that once achieved would never last for long. Utopia would be a perfectly well-balanced system where all elements affect each other, where forces counterbalance each other and that together forms the perfect network. However such a system is very fragile to any outer influences or to forces from within. Unplanned, uncoordinated actions would shake the network. "


Photo: Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein Copyright: Austria Design Net

The pair have translated the unsustainable nature of utopia into 63 interconnected carbon fiber rods. Each rod holds a custom circuit board with LEDs and an accelerometer. "This way each palatine works by itself," the pair note. "But since they are all connected via the hardware, they seem like [they're] behaving like a swarm." The end of each rod is covered with a Japanese paper lampshade. The handmade lampshades have a gradually fading pattern on them consisting of a network of lines, also representing the idea of interconnectivity. 

Once these rods are moved or titled, by human hand or otherwise, the whole system is affected—the more movement, the darker the lights. If it is a high degree, the whole room can darken until balance is restored. Conversely, when the piece is in perfect equilibrium, it shines its brightest.


Photo: Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein Copyright: Austria Design Net

"When the mobile shines the brightest it appears solid and perfect but as well numb, whilst when dimming and moving after a touch, it is less bright, less perfect but more alive," they say. "It also shows how much impact a small element can have in a bigger system."

Photo: Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein Copyright: Austria Design Net

As well as taking its inspiration from the idea of utopia and interconnectivity, the pair also looked at Alexander Calder and his mobiles, along with other balancing and scale systems. The piece was also a chance to showcase their, and Austria's, design aesthetic.

Photo: Simon Scherrer / smolbattfein Copyright: Austria Design Net

"The project forms a nice mix between crafts and technology," the pair explain. "A lot of the single elements were handmade, whilst at the same time we used as well laser cutting, LEDs, sensors and programming. This mixture does fit nicely with Austrian design ideals. We do appreciate crafts and old techniques but allow them as well to adapt to contemporary possibilities."


Visualisation: mischer'traxler studio. Copyright: mischer'traxler studio

The London Design Biennale is on now until September 27, 2016. Learn more about it here. Visit mischer'traxler's here to learn more about their work.

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