By Spandana Gopal
In November, 2017, we unveiled Kōlam Light, a new, site-specific light installation at White City Place in West London. It took over 6 months of studio brain, blood and sweat time, and a night of installing in minus zero conditions to get it to exist, perfectly. The brief from our clients – Stanhope and Mitsui Fidosan, was that they wanted to create a beacon at the gateway of the newly developed White City Place – a new hub for tech, art, science and music in West London with the likes of Net a Porter, Imperial College, the RCA and Jai Paul’s Paul Institute. The beacon was to mark the entrance, whilst offering a welcome to White City place.
We presented to them concepts for light-based installations that looked at animation and moving image. The site afterall was home to the BBC. But this wasn’t quite enough – we wanted to push this idea of ‘festive lighting’ by resisting it, offering something new and thought-provoking, but familiar enough to engage and capture imagination.
Then, on one of our recent visits to India we saw a Kōlam being drawn outside our Bangalore factory.
The South Indian ritual of Kōlam (or Rangoli, in mid and northern India) – is a drawing made in rice flour, part of a morning tradition by women of the household, on the thresholds of their homes. It happens almost unconsciously, like an absent minded gesture, but dense with meaning, along with other morning activities. The threshold or entrance of the home is washed clean, before being drawn upon daily, offering both a friendly and a spiritual welcome to all. Kolams present their own systems and rules : dots and lines, lines looping around dots, unbroken. Washed the next day or blown away, the routine around them allows for a new concept to be created each day.
We liked this idea of a Kolam welcome in London. But as a light?
Alongside our Kolam exploration, we were back in the studio ordering in a range of light sensitive materials of which our favourite was acrylic perspex. What we were really into was this phenomenon of ‘edge glow.’ where parts of the perspex would get lit up more than others based on the intensity of the light source and the pattern. (Read about it here)
So then we built our first hand-sized model. This was a Perspex cube made out of sheets tightly stacked together. We laser cut our first to be animated Kolam into each sheet, that we were then able to ‘light up’, to create what would seem like a moving Kolam.
Our design practice as a studio is to reveal the nuances of everyday life in India, and aspects of design within them – generally overlooked or uncategorised. Projects such as Kolam Light allow us to create new meaning in a new context. Here, as an ever-changing daily beacon for workers and the wider public, offering a thought-provoking welcome to the site.
Kolam Light is live and on view at White City Place. The full address is 201 Wood Lane, White City, W12 7TU.
White City Place produced a film about Kolam Light. Film credit to Bernard Zieja.