Trained in gold and silver smithing, Cinnamon Lee approaches her lighting designs as a jeweller rather than a product designer. Her considerable skills are evident in a series of recent works that are as seductive as they are technically accomplished.
Autumn afternoon in Sydney – dreary and drizzly, not dramatic enough to be interesting. Through the glass doors of jewellery studio and gallery, Metalab, down an alleyway off Crown Street in Surry Hills, there are subtle shots of colour in the air – the drabness of the day instantly lifts. The colourful glow is coming from a row of Cinnamon Lee Chameleon lamps hanging above a display cabinet: gorgeous skeletal pieces, at first glance quite traditional in form but, on second thoughts, utterly bizarre. For a start, is made up of ribs of stainless steel – it couldnâ€™t shade a thing if it had to. Lee holds her hand a few centimetres away from one of the lamps and its orange glow changes to yellow to green to teal. She moves her hand away, and the teal glow remains. The stainless steel wires, it turns out, arc all linked to a microchip controlling the colour. Switch, if you can call it that, is the whole shape – it acts as a proximity sensor. The lampshade – like shade of the lamps, Lee continues, the lampshade, but it doing the opposite â€“ it reflecting light back out.
Cinnamon Lee, trained in gold and silver-smithing (love all metals â€“ they all pretty amazing) and known for her boldly minimal jewellery, is, she says, trying to break down the whole concept of what light can be. She is not interested in task lighting – so many other people do it. More interested in looking at what possible and trying to use new technologies to do things you couldnâ€™t do before. The first lights she made were for a project during her studies in jewellery and object design at Enmore TAFE. Sparked something in me, I guess – so much so, that her undergraduate degree in Canberra focused purely on light objects. She liked the fact that lights have two states – on and off – and that the mere act of switching a light on has an enormous effect both on the object and space it in.
In those early works, she immediately moved away from the simple switch mechanism – some lamps had to be turned upside down, or tipped, to be switched on and off. As well, she made stainless steel lights, such as Spectrum, 2010, in the shape of light bulbs and with multichip LEDâ€™s, which hang in series and interact to run through a rainbow worth of colours. Other light bulb-shaped lamps each contain (apart from an LED preprogrammed to flicker) an exquisite moth or flame made of silver, literally trapped within the globe.
It in the moth and the flame that Lee talent atÂ jewellery can be seen – delicately intricate details that elicit close inspection (not the usual response to a lamp). In approaching her lighting designs as a jeweller rather than a product or industrial designer, she says she has had to think about why she was focusing on lighting and jewellery in particular and what the relationship between them might be.
Ornaments the body, the other ornaments space. Given that, as a jeweller, she usually commissioned to design and make rings, often for weddings, she far more interested in the meaning behind them than in overtly decorative elements. Indeed, one range of rings – Covert Jewels, 2011 – is gloriously plain outside, with all decoration and texture hidden inside. Not about everyone being able to access it all the time. In the same way, her lights, which obviously donâ€™t have the emotional value of rings, are also not so much about decoration, but more about interactivity.
In both the jewellery and the lighting, it the process that she finds particularly interesting and it where much of her inspiration lies. For the lighting, that process may be more to do with the way technology has developed; in the jewellery, it far more obvious and hands-on. Designs arc drawn using computer software, which can take a couple of hours, a couple of days or a week. These are then printed in wax and cast. The jewellery, she says, little studies of materials and process, often too complex to have been entirely handmade.
She outsources the rapid prototyping and lost-wax casting but uses traditional jeweller tools-files, burrs and all the rest to meticulously finish each piece, a task that, too, can take many hours. While she loves the high-tech aspects of her work, the hand finishing is just as important to her. Both equally tedious and equally relaxing – I enjoy both and feel a sense of needing to do both.
Something she has to work on, she says, is the need to do everything herself. She was currently designing a lamp larger than anything she did before, partly in an attempt to change her work practice. That will help me let go â€“ it not sustainable to do everything myself.