The idea of an interview with Carlotta de Bevilacqua on the increasingly close ties between Artemide and the world of art – starting with some technical lighting projects of the company, like the one for the new setting for the Pietà Rondanini or for the cupola of the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi by Jean Nouvel – is transformed, due to her torrential enthusiasm (as vice-president of Artemide and president of Danese), into wider-ranging reflections on the role of light in contemporary society.

“If the last century was that of electronics, this is the century of photonics: the science of light. The century in which light can process and transport data and images, and in turn be transported without wires. All this opens up extraordinary new frontiers to light up the dark zones of the world, hospitals, schools… Photonics is a life resources because it illuminates nature, humanity. Artemide is investing in all this: not only in spotlights for art or design lamps for the home, but also in research and culture. Culture is a key word: we design because the world needs to be educated about the quality of life, and light, together with water and air, is one of the three indispensable element for life itself.”

When asked if it is possible to economically quantify the company’s investment in the sector of projects for art, de Bevilacqua responds: “The investment is hard to specify, because there are too many factors: electronics, lenses (Artemide, since 1985, owns a Research and Development Center that designs the most innovative optical-electronic components used in its products)… For us it is definitely a strategic sector and we can safely say that one third of our research goes into collections for the lighting of life, art and culture.”

Regarding a (supposed) difference of approach between the design of a product to light art and that of a more decorative lamp, the architect explains: “The starting point is always light, not the product. The difference between a decorative product and a non-decorative one lies in the way of making light, in supplying the best response in keeping with a grid of values, always keeping human beings at the center of the project.

I would try to avoid such clear distinctions. We never think about a ‘closed’ product, we tend to ‘spread’ our knowledge across multiple projects, using an open source system. The idea of the closed project is finished, it makes no sense: we have to have the generosity to make our knowledge available and to take advantage of the knowledge of others. Knowledge networks are necessary.”

Finally, Carlotta de Bevilacqua focuses on one of the most important (and thrilling) projects done by the company in recent years: the above-mentioned lighting for the Pietà Rondanini in the new setting designed by Michele De Lucchi: “De Lucchi called us to say that he was putting the Pietà at the center of the Ospedale Spagnolo of the Sforza Castle, and that he needed a light that would display the space in a homogeneous way.

The challenge was to light a three-dimensional body, a work-testament sculpted by Michelangelo in the last years of his life, that conveys a dual drama: that of Mary who holds her Son, and that of the sculptor, with waning energy, who leaves unfinished signs on the material. Yet precisely those unfinished signs are the signature of the sculpture, which is dramatic but also ‘soft,’ bearing witness to a silent, almost serene farewell.

The difficulty in lighting the Pietà was how to make the work live without shadows, without allowing viewers to intercept the light, but also without creating a dramatic contrast between the sculpture and the space. Managing to do this has been an honor and a thrill for all of us: we have made a unique experience possible for millions of visitors, and we have done so somehow without ‘existing,’ designing fixtures that are as discreet as possible, absent in the space, respecting the work and the expressive force of light. Our design approach is both humanistic and scientific, and it represents our identity. We have to continue along this path, in spite of the difficulties, to narrate a world of values, principles and beauty.”

Text by Andrea Pirruccio