Alison Berger 16.07.15

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The glass artist’s latest light designs are inspired by scientific apparatus, but she still prefers the imprecision of the handmade aesthetic

Alison Berger isn’t a lighting designer. “Designers are meant to work with the newest technology and materials, to think about lumens and making sure the room is lit properly. I’m an artist who makes pieces that happen to have some functionality.” That may be so, but the influence of Berger’s design background – specifically architectural design – on her work is undeniable.

Based in Los Angeles, Berger mainly creates lighting, but also furniture and other objects, all using traditional Italian glass-blowing techniques. Their shapes reference history, nature and science, from chemistry, astronomy, meteorology and maritime apparatus, to natural phenomenon such as fireflies, constellations and raindrops. Shaped by hand, each item is unique, retaining fingerprints, bubbles and marks from her tools. “I love the misshapen quality of items made without industrial precision,” she says. “I want the pieces to be brothers and sisters, not identical.”

Berger’s style may capture the zeitgeist for the handmade, but it steers clear of sentimentality, perhaps because of her meticulous process. She draws detailed plans and elevations of each work, considering its proportions and how it will relate to its context. “Lighting is so much about what happens once a piece is in its space – the direction, compression and fading of light. I work with colourless glass because it takes on, like a chameleon, the environment it’s in.” The resulting works are precise, finely balanced, with clean lines and without superfluous elements. Her Bevel Sconce – an asymmetric, tapered glass light held by a bronze armature – has the drooping appearance of hanging fruit. The two half-spheres of the Moon Pendant form a circle when seen head on, but wax and wane as they spin around.

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Counterweight Chandelier

Berger discovered glass-blowing at the age of 15, when she cycled past a stained-glass shop in her hometown in Texas, glimpsing the workshop through a fence: “I was instantly fascinated,” she says. She went on to study sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design and apprenticed with glass artist Dale Chihuly, before training as an architect at Columbia University and working for practices including Frank O Gehry and Associates. In 1995, she decided to focus solely on her glasswork, accepting commissions for one-off pieces, and since 1998 she has collaborated with the interior-design brand Holly Hunt.

Berger names as influences sculptors such as Brancusi and Giacometti, but also the Bauhaus, Japanese carpentry, and architects Carlo Scarpa and Pierre Chareu, who both turned their eye for materials and form to product design. In 1997, she built a glass structure for Comme des Garçons’ Tokyo store, inspired by Giacometti’s 1932 sculpture, The Palace at 4am. She was the first American artist commissioned by Hermès, for which she created a series of simple bowls, jugs and vessels.

Since the beginning of 2014, Berger has released eight new pieces that demonstrate her trademark style but with greater complexity in terms of both scale and mechanism. The Counterweight Chandelier is a system of lights connected by wheels, weights and pulleys that allow each element to be repositioned. Considerations such as suspension, cantilevers and counterweights all called upon her architectural experience, requiring detailed calculations. The Cage Pendant, which is due to launch in June, mimics the metal cages that encase industrial lighting, and also employs techniques adapted from those used to make scientific vessels.

Now, however, she is keen to take on more public work: “I would love to do lighting for a church or synagogue, or a library or opera house – somewhere meditative or spiritual, where you are compelled to be silent and be enveloped in the space.”

 

Words

Debika Ray

 

Above from left: Crystal Sphere Pendant, Amphora Pendant, Beacon Pendant

quotes story

Lighting is so much about what happens once a piece is in its space – the direction, compression and fading of light. I work with colourless glass because it takes on, like a chameleon, the environment it’s in

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Carpenter’s Bench

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