Sculptures, artworks, and paintings found in art galleries, even when inspired by everyday objects, embody a unique latent charm in tandem with the memories and experiences of their creator. The narratives and ideas that shape the identity of creations such as these help differentiate them from designs that mimic traditional motifs and contemporary design elements. United States-based lighting designer Bec Brittain, too, is known for drawing inspiration from her daily experiences and childhood memories. Her designs are conceptualised with the intent to allow viewers to play with them. After a hiatus of two years, Brittain is all set to present some of her works at New York-based Emma Scully Gallery from 11 October to 17 December 2022. Her exhibition, titled Paraciphers, presents a showcase of parachute-inspired art pieces.
“With Bec, nothing is made just for fashion. Everything starts from a conceptual backbone. She is really one of the most important American lighting designers. Throughout her body of work, there’s an attention to form, attention to material and attention to detail that’s so thoughtful. From a curatorial standpoint, Paraciphers is in line with the gallery's mission of championing cutting-edge contemporary collectable design. Our main goal is to keep representing and supporting the work of groundbreaking living artists, designers, and craftspeople," says Emma Scully, founder of the gallery, about Brittain’s unique style and process.
The pieces displayed at the Paraciphers exhibition are inspired by the movement of parachutes. “I have sketches from eleven years ago, from the first time I saw photos of Mars-rover parachute tests in a huge wind tunnel for NASA. The way they were illuminated and the way the strings made forms were just beautiful,” says Brittain, citing the source of the inspiration behind this project. The series of mini-parachutes, light enough to rhythmically move in the wind like the petals of a flower, offer a dance of light and shadow, reflection and refraction.
Although Brittain’s inspiration behind the project stems from a nascent memory, the journey of her early sketches to their tangible counterparts was long drawn. “Every time I came back to my sketches of the inflated parachutes used by NASA, they just ended up looking like run-of-the-mill lanterns and the idea sat in the depths of my sketchbooks. A lot has changed over the past eleven years. I realised I didn’t need to turn them into a producible, designed lighting collection. I just finally had the confidence to let parachutes be parachutes,” the American designer says.
With her colourful pieces, Brittain hopes to capture the character of the parachutes and the patterns that distil through them. The designer encodes the fabric with messages of equality and community, in telegraph code, a precursor to morse, and hence manages to imbue the parachutes with another layer of meaning. These messages manifest themselves in colourful patterns on the fabric. “The parachutes provide a sense of relief twice over—first in their physical capacity to save and in the salvation of their messages,” says Brittain. The pieces are called Angela I, Florence I, James I, Julius I and Julius 2, Malcolm I, Martin 2 and Unknown Author I, after the author of the messages encoded on each parachute.
Brittain’s role as a designer is the result of her exposure to creativity from a very young age. Her mother is an artist and her father dabbled in the woodworking business. Her grandparents and step-father, on the other hand, were architects. These early experiences around various different forms of creative practices inspired her initial interest in studying fashion design and later, product design and architecture. Later, practical experience on the field led Brittain to realise her love for the process of making things in metal as well as a special interest in lighting design. This field helped her combine her interest in form, material and technology.
Brittain’s foray into textiles for her latest collection of parachutes serve as an ode to the first arena of design she stepped into as a young creative individual. To sew the pieces, the designer also used the same sewing machine she first got for herself in 1996. Bec says, “The past few years have been really transformational. I don’t just do lighting anymore. I want to do my own thing and explore pieces that maybe we can’t keep making because they’re so difficult. It’s about being freer with where sculpture and design overlap.”The exhibition Paraciphers by Bec Brittain is on display at the Emma Scully Gallery in New York from 11 October to 17 December 2022.