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Brecht Wright Gander Makes the Sculptural Illumination Machine #1

09.08.20 | By
Brecht Wright Gander Makes the Sculptural Illumination Machine #1
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Some of my favorite work every year at Design Miami/ belongs to Brecht Wright Gander, a Rhode Island-born, New Jersey-based artist and designer known for his experimental work that slides the functional into sculptural pieces of art. His latest is the Illumination Machine #1, a piece with a cartoonish silhouette that disguises elegant copper gilding on the inside of the illuminated funnel. The sculpture combines a variety of materials that require different techniques to achieve, resulting in a labor-intensive work of art that Brecht shares in this month’s Deconstruction. The piece was designed for Objective Collection’s new gallery in Shanghai which presented the work over the summer. Read on to see the design process behind the Illumination Machine #1:

Illumination Machine #1 concept sketch

The initial form required a lot of wrestling. I wanted this piece to be human scale – to have the presence of a body and an eye-level approach.

The interior is hollow and has a kind of wormhole shape. I wanted to make sure that no matter how far you poked your head in, the surfaces were finished. So naturally I had to climb inside to do the finishing. The form is made with plaster and fiberglass.

I call this area of the lamp “the oculus.” First I lay fiberglass atop plaster. Then I microcoat the fiberglass in cement. I impregnate the cement with a high proportion of copper. Next I apply various acids and chemicals to oxidize the copper. The result is a hybrid material – verdi-gris copper that has the texture of polished cement.

As a final step, I applied flecks of gilding.

The result has the variated shading and luminous chatoyancy of a lizard’s eye (below).

I began work on the base with a foam mockup.

We then cast the foam in a single use sand mold. The form has been divided into individual sections to make it more manageable during casting.

The next step is to break the cast bronze free of the sand, which must be smashed apart like concrete.

It takes many steps of processing to go from rough casting to finished form. I begin by grinding the bronze with wire brush wheels, cutting away the sprues, and blasting the surface with walnut shells.

The cleaned parts are then welded together. Emily Smith is shown here, doing the TIG welding.

The heat of the welding leaves a beautiful coloration on the bronze, but this is temporary.

Finally we inspect the bronze, do final polishing touch ups, and give it a clear protective finish.

Next is wiring. I customize the cord with a rubber coating. The foot switch is custom machined in steel and bronze. These details are important – if we were to use off-the-shelf components here the design’s language would be broken off in mid sentence.

Things can get a little messy.

After wiring the LEDs, the piece is ready to ship.

Here it is installed at the Objective Collection’s new gallery in Shanghai.

Brecht Wright Gander

Watch Brecht Wright Gander discuss making Illumination Machine 1 & 2 for the installation in Shanghai:

Video by Studio Oiseau.

Caroline Williamson is Editorial Director of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.