More than 50 years immersed in the world of theatre have taught Robert Wilson a great deal about illuminating a space. Now he has put this experience to novel use in a collaboration with Italian lighting company Slamp, which will unveil a chandelier designed by the legendary American director during Salone del Mobile in Milan.

The project was set in motion by Luziah Hennessy, an avid art collector and a connector of creative minds, and inspired by Wallpaper’s annual Handmade exhibitions in Milan. Hennessy was a fan of the show’s collaborations between designers, artists, craftsmen and manufacturers, and the unique designs they produced. She sensed that Slamp and Wilson could creatively collide in the same way and to dazzling effect, and suggested as much during a dinner last summer. 

‘Luziah’s intuition was right,’ says Roberto Ziliani, Slamp’s founder and CEO. ‘Just by shaking Bob’s hand, I felt completely dragged into his artistic universe.’ 

Wilson showed Ziliani and his team some lighting pieces he had designed for his production of Verdi’s La Traviata, ahead of its debut at Linz’s Landestheater in September last year. And when Ziliani asked him to consider creating a chandelier, these geometric works were the starting point. 

Innovative lighting has always been key to Wilson’s stagecraft. ‘As a theatre maker, I see light as being a central character of a work,’ he notes. ‘It’s not only there to illuminate the actors. It can be seen in the context of a play, or as an element on its own.’ His lighting for the first act of La Traviata consisted of asymmetrically aligned beams, creating an eerie composition above the singers. He recreated this arrangement for Slamp in a chandelier, rendered in four sizes, also titled ‘La Traviata’. 

Slamp’s technically precise execution was achieved using Lentiflex, a polymer created by the company and manufactured to look as if it is made out of many small prisms, so the lighting’s surface alters in appearance, depending on the point of view. Wilson describes the finished chandelier as a ‘frozen storm, a cluster of poetic images that can subtly change in colour and temperature’. 

A whole cluster of the chandeliers will be unveiled as an installation at this year’s hospitality-themed Wallpaper* Handmade exhibition, as the centrepiece of the ballroom at the conceptual Hotel Wallpaper*. Curated by Wilson, the installation celebrates not only his stage expertise but also his earlier architectural education. ‘As an architect, I was taught to begin with light, as it is the element that creates space,’ he notes. ‘Without light, there is no space.’

As originally featured in the May 2016 issue of Wallpaper* (W*206)