Calimero Lamp by Cattelan

Two weeks back, the comprehensive exhibition of Janez Suhadolc’s chairs (including his ineffable Chair Lajt) gave me the opportunity to talk about ekphrastic art. Well, here’s another word to introduce into our ever-expanding glossary of design/architecture esoteria, courtesy of Italian manufacturer Cattelan: “Abat Jour.” James Stevens Curl’s The Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape is of use here, providing a couple of meanings: “1. Anything that serves to throw daylight downward, or in a given direction, such as a sloped or beveled cill or splayed jambs. 2. Skylight set in a sloping aperture.”

Calimero Lamp. Designed by Cattelan.

The term’s historical resonance may explain why Cattelan has chosen it, rather than the more mundane “diffuser,” to characterize Calimero, a collection of ceiling, floor, and table lamps whose distinguishing feature is its voluminous, bulbous, and sublimely shiny chrome lampshade. We might also attribute the use of the term to a desire for greater precision. Translated from the French, it actually means to “shoot,” “pull down” or “knock down” the day. In light of Calimero’s expert dispersal of ambient light—such to duplicate the unmatched splendor of a ray of sun—the term is spot on. While the light’s functional aspiration may be to simulate natural light, one can only speculate on the objective of the aesthetic. The over-sized chrome shade reminds me first and foremost of Woody Allen’s Sleeper, an absurd send-up of sci-fi films in which the title character spends most of his screen time wearing a ridiculous half-moon-shaped chrome cap. Though Calimero’s diffuser might double for this dubious accoutrement, the lamp asserts a more staid and dignified vision of “futuresque.” Particularly in regards to the Pendant version—whose thin cord gives it a floating appearance—the lamp seems possessed of an other-worldly intelligence.

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I’m reminded of b-film depictions of the over-sized heads of Martians, or even the old saw about hyper-intelligent beings whose evolutionary process had eschewed their bodies in favor of huge floating brains. This isn’t to say that Calimero isn’t beautiful—and the finishes in white or black methacrylate or gold or copper steel certainly would downplay the sci-fi angle—but only that it’s good for a bit of fun. And isn’t that what a provocative aesthetic is all about?

Posted November 24, 2009 by Joseph Starr

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