Through a glass darkly

TEXT Leslie Jen
PHOTOS Jennifer Rowsom unless otherwise noted

MADE, the Toronto-based design product company led by Shaun Moore and Julie Nicholson, showcased 70 new works from artists, architects, industrial designers and craftspeople this past February in the second annual Radiant Dark exhibition. Intriguingly subtitled Elegant Corruptions, the exhibition hints tantalizingly at the dark side, and the invited designers created moody, ambient lighting in response to Moore and Nicholson’s theme.

Radiant Dark typically features more than just lighting; the exhibitions encompass furniture, textiles, ceramic, glass and metal work as well. However, MADE’s debut this September at IIDEX/NeoCon Canada will showcase just a fraction of select lighting pieces from the more vastly expansive Radiant Dark exhibition held earlier this year. One of these pieces is Cali Balles and Don Maclennan’s Grey Shadows, an utterly sublime pendant light fixture crafted out of sandblasted, mouth-blown glass. These glass forms are initially created as perfect ovoids which are subjected to a prolonged heating process–the first step in corrupting their form–and they begin to collapse on themselves. Decay continues as air is drawn out, and organic folds and wrinkles begin to appear. The end result is that these smoky amorphous shapes become beautifully evocative suspended forms that subtly illuminate a room; they captivate with their presence.

The work of industrial designer Tamara Rushlow makes an appearance again this year, this time in the form of the Flute chandelier. Here, pale porcelain shards are staggered at varying heights, dangling around a central light source. The matte and vaguely imperfect surface of the porcelain conveys a quality of tactility; the entire piece reads as an illuminated sculpture, where the light is broken, redirected and scattered.

Multidisciplinary designer and artist Barr Gilmore offers a cheeky response to Elegant Corruptions with Shinny. A tribute to a bygone era and our country’s national obsession with hockey, Shinny is a columnar floor lamp comprised of old-fashioned handcrafted wooden hockey sticks–itself a comment on newer construction technologies involving fibreglass, aluminum, carbon fibre and other composites. There is an element of the Duchampian “readymade” found-object sculpture here; 10 to 12 ash hockey sticks are arrayed vertically around an illuminated shaft, which glows like the ice upon which the game is played.

As we live in an age guided by sustainable design considerations, Propellor Design have produced a novel lighting solution called Dram, a contemporary chandelier comprised of 120 disused retro drinking glasses and tumblers in a variety of shades. These drinking vessels from another time are inverted and suspended, their various colours and forms blurring together in a hazy glow. Two other examples of Propellor’s lighting designs featured on the previous page include Meridian and Calvino, spherical and rectilinear geometries that are articulated, in this instance, in wood rather than glass.

The nature of the work included in Radiant Dark appears to be evolving into a cross-disciplinary exercise; it is becoming more about the experiential installation and less about the finished object of display. Illustrative of this shift is an installation bearing the name Tips and Trade Offs by Orest Tataryn, which features a mixed bag of ingredients–Pyrex tubing, neon tubes and glass frits. In working with other artists, designers and architects, Tataryn often expresses the various technologies of lighting–in particular, neon tube-type illumination, fibre optics and LED.

As a series of curated exhibitions and as a means to present some of the multifaceted yet often obscured aspects of contemporary Canadian design, Radiant Dark continues to be a success. Moore and Nicholson are in the midst of planning the third installment, which takes place in February 2010. And as in previous years, the show will introduce a fresh theme to stimulate new works and to demonstrate that the world of Canadian design is not static, but rather a living, evolving entity that invites viewers to engage with work that is representative of a thoughtful, independent design process.

For more information on MADE and Radiant Dark, please visit