Marcus Tremonto manipulates light to create objects that emit emotion. In an exclusive interview that took place appropriately in the City of Light, the founder of Treluce Studios discusses his work and the future of light.
“I’m constantly trying to create something that when you are away from the work, you look forward to the experience of seeing it again. Just like with an amazing painting,” says Marcus Tremonto, the designer who with his wife Monica is the founder of design atelier Treluce Studios. But although Tremonto studied painting, the medium he now chooses to express himself with is light. “Light is a very emotional experience on many levels,” he explains. “When you look at what painting is about, it’s all about light.”
The latest creation that Tremonto wants us to long to see again is Hexalights, which consist of remarkable flat panels shaped as different stages of a cube in rotation. Using
electroluminescent paper, which consists of an organic material that emits light when charged by an electric current, these pieces are astonishingly thin at just 2mm. The technology was developed in the 1960s for use on the screen behind the steering wheel of a car. Tremonto is fascinated by using materials in a non-traditional way and redefining it: “I like the term re-purposed.” As hoped, Hexalights wowed the crowd at Salone del Mobile, where they were presented earlier this year at Spazio Rosanna Orlandi. “It’s not the technology that interests me,” says Tremonto. “It’s the idea of perspective and mystery.”
Unusually for a piece that garnered so much praise from critics, Hexalights is produced in editions of just two or three. “I’m constantly trying to explain that we still make everything by hand,” says Tremonto of the limited production. “That’s what the studio’s idea was. What we do is try to make something look like a machine made it but it’s me doing it by hand.”
More than production constraints, Treluce has resolutely remained a tight operation since it was founded in 2002 and the Tremontos have so far resisted the calls of the big design manufacturers. “The design that is really fuelling the energy in this world is coming from young, little people working with two or three people in their studio, and making amazing things that no one would produce,” says Tremonto. “Those are the things that are changing people’s sensibilities.”
Marcus Tremonto’s definition of luxury?
When you experience the best in what people can do - can be something crafted or a gesture.
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
Sometimes the things we take for granted are a luxury to another; there are so many simple luxuries in our day.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
Honestly, It's all about Paris for me... it’s like no other.
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
A truly dear friend or love.
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
More time, to do all the things you want to do in life... another day is a good one.
You studied painting – how does this inform your work with light?
The painters that really affect people are those who try to translate an opinion in their work. As soon as the photographed existed, the responsibility of the painter was over. They don’t have to replicate the landscape or the portrait. I always find the most amazing part of abstract expressionism is not really the end game but all that they went through to get to the point where they delineated everything and said I don’t need to paint the arm anymore, I don’t need the figure. They can reference it. That’s interesting for me that you can get to a point in your work where you understand what you’re trying to do.
You presented Hexalights in Milan. Tell us about that project.
The idea was that if you took a perfect cube and spun it in the computer so that it was rotating, then took snapshots at different angles, and then flatten those images out and let them live. The material was developed in the 60s for the backlights of automobiles and the first cell phones had them as keypad lights. When it’s off, it’s pink. Illuminated it’s white. The larger area you have, the brighter it is. Even that alone is fun. I like the idea that it illuminates because it’s a surprise and because light is so emotional.
What was the reaction?
I love the reaction when kids come in because they’re the first ones to go crazy and aren’t so interested in the technical aspect, they just enjoy what they see. Then you have people who are totally unaware of the material and ask how is it possible that a flat material as thin as a piece of paper is illuminating. It is about allowing someone to create their own experience. Instead of making one big unique piece, we made something where people could create a unique piece on their own by combining 20 or 50 of them.
The medium of light is already changing fast – what does the future hold?
The advancements in light will be more about an organic approach of what light can be generated from. Can you harvest it? Can it be grown? 100 years from now, I think light will just exist as an organic thing. There will be liquids that will be invented that will be put on walls and you will just charge them up. LEDs are popular right now because they use less electricity but they are far from the reality of where technology could go.
So light will become more than functional?
If you look at what’s happening with photography, we’re living through this incredible time. How people are using light in photography is amazing. Light doesn’t have to be about purpose but can also be about magic. Like candlelight. A person who you can’t remove from any conversation about light is Ingo Maurer. He’s an amazing figure about taking light and using it as an art form. I think that light is going to have a birth that is more playful and evolved from aesthetics that the art world wants as a creative genre. You can really express things with light.
Why do you work in such small editions?
We used to do larger editions of eight. Two years ago we both said that it’s too much. It feels like I’m creating the same thing over and over again. I don’t mind making two or three but by the fifth you want to do something new. So we started to concentrate on doing less in the form of editions but more in terms of new ideas that are harmonious with each other.
Why have you refrained from working with some of the big manufacturers of design?
As a designer you can now do quality work that’s on the level of the big manufacturers or even better in the fact that they would never look at it as cost effective. I do want to access that in some way and make things that people live with. But I still ask myself if I can do something bigger, something that affects the world in a way that is beyond acquiring things, something noble? We want to do things that mean something. I really want a career that when I look back at a block of time, it looks harmonious.
What has been a recent inspiration?
When were in Milan, we went to Castiglioni’s studio. It was just the most amazing experience. This is one of the greatest Italian designers if not just designers. He only had one assistant and did everything on an old fashioned table. The books alone freak you out: every issue of Avatari, every issue of Domus. It’s encyclopaedic. It’s very inspiring but also stressful because it reminds you what one person can do and it’s almost impossible to live up to that. My favourite thing in the whole place is the maquette for a building he made out of Parmesan cheese rinds!
How have you seen the design world develop since you began?
We have this amazing new process for design. You can get a PHD in it. You can go into design as a viable sophisticated comment on art. You can really be considered to be educated in design and not just creating design. And it’s interesting to look at what happens when the education of the history of things enters into a genre. There’s no disconnect that a lot of people are commenting on design in their own designs. It’s not about only doing something new but is instead about adding some social comment in the work. A lot of design has more meaning to it about the way we’re living rather as opposed to wanting to affect the way we live. It’s more about something emotional.
You have cited Dan Flavin as an influence. How does he inspire you?
Dan Flavin is one of the most amazing artists. It’s a combination of so many things – the idea of abandonment and the idea that the restructuring of something that was abandoned can make it more important than it was is so interesting. You can apply that to anything, even people. If you applied effort to people that you have abandoned, how much more wonderful would life be? In becoming known for using light, it was interesting to me to think about how important he was to me as an artist. I was blown away by his work.
You work a lot with the gallerist Rosanna Orlandi in Milan. How does she push you?
We show with Rosanna Orlandi because we just love her gallery. She’s an amazing woman with a love of fashion and textiles that is so infused in everything. Her appreciation for craftsmanship and the freedom she give to artists and the love she gives to them is incredible. There’s also something congruent through her space. So you see meticulously crafted product design like a phone or humidifier, and then you see handmade carpets or something made out of clay. I like that kind of experience.
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."
- Albert Einstein