Tracking Flos’s latest collaboration with Michael Anastassiades
My Circuit is the outcome of Michael Anastassiades’ long-term relationship with Flos. He is a designer with an unusually wide range of interests, from handmade bamboo and poured pewter artefacts to industrially produced office furniture. It reflects an eclectic background.
He trained as a civil engineer at Imperial College in London but got more out of the Royal College of Art where he worked with Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby on a series of conceptual designs that treated the discipline more as a means of asking questions than of providing functional solutions. Flos is the company responsible for many of the most memorable lights of the last 60 years, from the Castiglioni brothers’ Arco floor lamp to Konstantin Grcic’s Mayday work lamp.
Anastassiades’ work is always beautifully conceived, technically resolved and with a poetic aspect. He is fascinated by the way people use light in the domestic context to define the spaces in which they live. My Circuit is a striking departure from the insistent linear geometry and technocratic image of conventional track lighting – Anastassiades wanted to find a way to introduce a freer-flowing geometry while still allowing lighting schemes to be easily reconfigured.
The first version of My Circuit was based on pre-formed rigid elements, some curved, others straight, that could be configured together to achieve a range of layouts. It was an idea that came from Anastassiades’ adolescent memories of building Scalextric racing car circuits from a kit of prefabricated plastic parts with inset metal channels carrying electricity. He based the current version on a fully flexible track that allows users to draw fluid lines on the ceiling, positioning light fittings at any point along them. Anastassiades was as interested in My Circuit’s practical offering to users as he was in its quality as an object.
“We moved on to use a flexible tracking which is made out of a white rubber extrusion. The power comes from the wires on the side. Certain elements are installed on the ceiling as small sections and then the tracking clips between them. You can create a kind of drawing that eventually connects the different points where you would like lights to hang from.”
Paradoxically the effect is to make the track both more visible than a conventional rectilinear system, but also less intrusive. My Circuit is like a memory of the florid plaster cornices of baroque ceilings. “Like all the ideas that I’ve done, it started with a very long process of trying to understand how light works within the domestic setting and how people improvise to arrive at a result that they’re really happy with.”
Barbara Corti, now Flos’s Chief Creative Officer, asked Anastassiades to design an installation based on My Circuit for Milan’s design week this year. It would convey the culture of the brand, while reflecting the essence of My Circuit and its potential. She introduced him to Fabio Cherstich, the Italian theatre and opera director with a reputation for innovative productions. Six Acts – My Circuit, an installation staged at Flos’s Professional Space in Milan, was the result, the product of a creative dialogue between the three of them.
“Michael and I talked a lot about the right way to show My Circuit. The idea to work with different configurations was the starting point of our conversation, and how we could create a series of everyday interactions, between light and the track that is an important part of the product, and between light and people,” Corti explained.
Cherstich had not worked with either Corti or Anastassiades before, though he was a close observer of his work, and of the design world in general. “It is always a challenge working with somebody for the first time,” he says. “It was clear from the beginning what we shouldn’t do, not be too narrative, and not be too theatrical. We knew that time and rhythm would be important.”
Cherstich is accustomed to designing performance spaces, such as opera sets, himself but in this case he deferred to Anastassiades. “That was the most interesting thing for me,” he says. “I had the chance to play with the space designed by Michael, to get inspiration from it, and to enter into a dialogue with him. Everything I do is focused on the space of the stage. Not just as a character, in this case it’s the main character, the performance would not exist without Michael and his space.”
Corti worked to make the most of the collaboration: “Michael’s poetics are about purity. His work is about subtraction in order to keep the concept pure. For this project we put a lot of things on the table, the performers, a photographer that shot each configuration that changed everyday. We worked with additions rather than by subtraction; it was complex to manage, but the feedback for the final experience was very positive. I saw a lot of people coming back on successive nights.”
Anastassiades designed the setting for a performance choreographed by Cherstich. It was a backdrop for six performances that involved a set designed to evoke a domestic interior in semi-abstract terms, and a group of actors. Each evening the set was reconfigured to suggest a different sequence of activities, with lighting adjusted to reflect them. “Every day, we made sure that the settings were distinctly different. It was not just a matter of the simple movement of one or other light. One day it was a dining room, the next it was a combination of a workplace and bedroom together with a desk or a table, but quite abstract at the
same time. The furniture was not really about defining the function, but it was suggesting the activities that could take place around them.”
During the day, Anastassiades’ sets occupying Flos’s spaces were a sculptural presence. Each evening they were occupied by a group of actors, animated by a metronome, carrying out a set of routines that reflected the different activities implied by the configuration of furniture and light. “I didn’t want it to be seen as a formal performance. Fabio and I discussed ensuring an element of surprise. There would be no formal beginning, no curtain being opened, nobody announcing, ‘Now we have started.’ We envisaged people in the environment occupied by pieces of furniture, and lights hanging above it, with people curiously exploring it, and then suddenly, somebody who has been sitting there, who happens to be, of course, an actor, starts doing something.”
Anastassiades created something between a stage, a set and an installation, or “habitat” as Cherstich describes it. “Habitat is a word that suggests it is taking care of humans, that this is a space for humans, even if they are not there,” he says. “There is another layer, which is how this habitat fits inside another habitat. The relationship with the outside was really very strong, even without the performers being present.”
“The floor is not the floor of the space, it’s the floor that Michael designed, and that was very helpful for me; it created a tiny gap. I gave the performers some dogmas to follow. The only way for them to use words would be by singing, adding to the already completely surreal effect. The way to express feelings was to transmit them in an anti-naturalistic way. It creates a very interesting game between performers looking at each other, doing actions together or alone, looking at the audience, who are looking at them from inside the space, but also from outside through the window to the street. We chose to have performers all dressed in the same very simple monochromatic genderless way, to give a specific twist. It was suggesting the idea of a community, it removed the idea of style, or of casual or not casual. There was no makeup, and the performers worked in their own hair styles. Somebody is reading a book or playing chess, or dancing, but everything was a bit slower than reality, to create a dreamy atmosphere. The metronome gave them the rhythm. But when it stops, the silence is even more powerful. And every 45 minutes a performer enters with a triangle, to look at the light as if were a constellation of stars in the sky.”
For Corti the most powerful aspect of the project was in the way that it built up a space without conflict. “It’s a quality that people attending recognised. It encouraged them to stay, to appreciate it. They wanted to feel part of it.”
Interspersed stills are taken from a film on the installation by Giulia Achenza. She likes horses in Bèla Tarr movies and the oniric solitude in Lanthimos ones. Her style can be defined as dreamy and realistic at the same time; women, through her lens, are subjects instead of objects – transcending the boundaries of voyeurism.
Performances staged by Fabio Cherstich
Creative support by P:S