Reflections, illuminated, with Davide Groppi

Davide Groppi_Header

Projects, fairs, legends and seemingly impossible challenges. The lighting designer lets us into his thoughts and poetics

Light is an alphabet with which to write stories,” says Davide Groppi. The lighting designer opted for a dual presence at Design Week. He brought his now iconic Rail wall light, its structure resembling train lines tracing a heart-shaped outline to “supersalone.” A powerful and clear installation: “I wanted to be present with a message of love for our work and support for our restart,” he said. “I got such a lot out of taking part in the fair, also from a symbolic point of view. It helped to regenerate and nourish the entire production chain, from the riggers to the manufacturers.” In his studio, however, Groppi decided not to showcase new products but to bring his project research alive. Entitled Buio. Utopias of Light, this amazing exhibition takes the form of a maze plunged into total darkness, save for the glimmers of seven magical works designed by Groppi as a tribute to the great masters who inspired him - Yves Klein, Ingo Maurer, John Cage, Achille Castiglioni, Alexander Calder and Fausto Melotti. “I only spoke to Castiglioni once, I knew Maurer better, when I was young I hung around outside his house to speak to him. These seven are my legends, I have taken the liberty of interpreting their poetics in my own way,” adds Groppi, who arrived in Milan aged 22 from Piacenza and has come a long way since then.

Rail, Davide Groppi

Rail, Davide Groppi

How did you start?

“I’ve always had this passion. This exhibition was a way of telling people about my experiments. Some of the utopias are nostalgic endeavours around the desire to go back to creating lamps the way I did in the mid-1980s, in a tiny workshop. Maddalena De Padova got in touch with me in 1994, and I started collaborating with Boffi, and then with other brands, including Paola Lenti. Then I decided to create a brand that just happens to bear my name; it represents my own sartorial approach to this profession,” he explains. The Davide Groppi srl company became part of the Italian Design Brands group in 2018.

How would you define your approach?

Humanism and technique. My poetics are simplicity. I believe the semantic aspect of a project, its meaning, to be the most important thing. My aesthetics are not born of design, I’m not entirely clear what the world ‘design’ means: I try to get to the essence of forms, which derive rather from a functionalist culture, I’m incapable of adding unnecessary elements. I’m more interested in the graphic and scenographic aspect of the products. If you think about it, in film and theatre, light is called photography.

Fireflies, Davide Groppi

Fireflies, Davide Groppi

How has your creativity changed with the progress of lighting technology?

When the first LEDs arrived, around 13 years ago, I was astounded. Then I discovered that this new technology allowed me to do things that were even more romantic, new things that I couldn’t have achieved before. The first was Nulla, one of my favourites, which is a little luminous dot in a small hole in the ceiling. The one-dimensional aspect of the LEDs meant that the light source could be dematerialised. In his book Silence, John Cage says that all that follows silence is just an extreme effort not to break it. Another of my projects I’m particularly keen on is TeTaTeT, which ushered in a new category of goods, the wireless LED table lamp, which I would never have been able to achieve with filament light bulbs.

Negating light in order to emphasise it. When did this idea come to you?

During a visit I made to a Romanesque church in Umbria. It was completely dark, fresh, illuminated only by a candle in the apse. Now we all take artificial light for granted, there it was as if I had seen it for the first time.

There’s a lot of talk about sustainability. What are your thoughts?

I’m reflecting a lot about production. I’m sure that it’s right and best to work far ahead on projects in order to come up with a few, excellent ones.

Millepiedi, Davide Groppi

Millepiedi, Davide Groppi

Artificial vs natural light?

We are constantly caught up in the eternal dialogue between natural light and darkness. I continue to try and nurture this dialogue between the two, in as delicate and as human a way as possible. The right light allows us not only to see, but also to feel. To understand the hierarchies, the thresholds, the meeting places, as well as the spaces.

What’s your relationship with digital?

Digital experiences have become a sort of mantra these days. But it’s an important field that will, in fact, improve.

Notte Africana, Davide Groppi

Notte Africana, Davide Groppi

What’s in the pipeline?

A pair of experimental lamps created for the exhibition might be developed as products. Then I’m trying to take Nulla further, working on the theme of suspension, of levitation, counterbalanced by some research into the subject of lamps as objects that play a part in building the theatres of our lives.

10 November 2021