As we all know by now, museums have changed. No longer content to be dusty storehouses of scholarly interest, they now have to reach out and engage their audiences.
Some still resist such ideas as populism. But few could argue against this set piece of lighting, recently featured at the Louvre in Paris and called Appreciating Form. It’s a kind of micro-laboratory that aims to use the medium of light to enhance the understanding and appreciation of sculpture – in this case, a delightful Dancing Satyr, dated to the fourth century BC and famously pulled out of the Mediterranean near Sicily in 1997.
The satyr was shown as part of a larger collection of works attributed to the great sculptor of ancient Greece, Praxiteles (the show has already been in Milan). So far, so normal for a museum show – the difference being that the satyr points the way towards a new kind of interactive exhibition lighting that may, one day, be literally in the hands of the viewer.
The bronze cast of the satyr – it’s a reproduction, incidentally – is in a special section of the show, and represents the combined efforts of the iGuzzini Research Centre and Rome’s Central Restoration Institute, the aim being to explore the ‘relationship between light and works of art’. Piergiovanni Ceregioli, director of the iGuzzini Research Centre, says that the satyr is not only a test for new technology, but also a significant move towards the ‘democratisation of the museum: a process that will allow viewers a say in how they look at artworks, and where light helps describe the language of the artist’.
The big idea is that viewers can really get to grips with the relationship between light and works of art, and witness how changes in lighting can influence their emotional responses. ‘The idea is to show how light can provide multiple interpretations of artworks,’ adds Ceregioli. ‘It is not just for atmosphere: it is also to aid the understanding of the work.’
The Dancing Satyr, a figure in arched Dionysian reverie, was seen as particularly dynamic and therefore well suited to such an experiment in light and perception. Within the tight exhibition space iGuzzini created a kind of stage, with the satyr illuminated from behind. ‘We created a small theatre,’ says Ceregioli. ‘In this dramatic space, the idea was to offer the visitor a chance to change the direction and balance of the light – or, say, the ratio of light to shadow – depending on which side he is viewing the sculpture from .’ Ultimately, the aim was to enable viewers to see the satyr in different ways and compare the different visual impressions. It’s also a road test for a new lighting system from iGuzzini – called Tecnica and designed by Bruno Gecchelin. In an earlier form, it was seen in Milan last year. Such a sophisticated system arose from a lot of research and development, which included the laser scanning of the surface of the satyr, so as to provide co-ordinates for a virtual model, to be used for testing the outcome.
The production team assembled a battery of spotlights, mounted on a circular structure above the satyr, to project light on to the sculpture from different directions and intensities. These lights were then rigged up to a computerised control system that enables various schemes to be programmed into the system’s memory, and thereafter to be changed according to directions from a visitor or a nearby invigilator.
At the Louvre, there were what Ceregioli calls about ‘ten different themes’ to choose from. But at present the system stops short of being wholly interactive, and fears of vandalism prevented full public access to the lighting controls. ‘We are working on an interface for future exhibitions,’ says Ceregioli. ‘Then the visitor will truly be able to choose his or her own way to see.’
• iGuzzini Study and Research Centre
• Central Restoration Institute (ICR)
• Bronze copy of Dancing Satyr – ICR – Alessandro Fagioli (sculptor)
• Stage structure: Barth Innenausbau
• Stage walls: Sandro Santamaria
• Lighting systems contractor: Seam
• Electronic Systems: iGuzzini Gitronica
• Client: iGuzzini and ICR
• Lighting: iGuzzini Tecnica lights designed by Bruno Gecchelin
• Graphic design: The Louvre