Even if you’re not familiar with Japanese Chōchin lamps by name, it’s likely you’ll recognize the traditional spherical form composed of a spiraling, collapsible bamboo frame wrapped in paper that protects a flame (or, in modern times, an electric bulb). A few years ago, after a monthlong journey through Japan, London-based designer Anthony Dickens set about mining the rich history of these lightweight lanterns for a new take on the country’s millennia-old fixtures.
Dickens is, of course, not the first to turn his attention east for illumination inspiration. “Like many people in the U.K., my first exposure to this style ultimately came from Isamu Noguchi,” he tells Co.Design; Noguchi’s iconic Akari light sculptures popularized the ethereal artform in the 1950s while simultaneously revitalizing the original manufacturing methods. “Then there were those offered in Terence Conran’s Habitat shop, and the thousands of cheap and appallingly made imitations that sell in many design stores. When I saw the genuine articles in Japan I was amazed at the skill and sensitivity of the craftsmanship. There’s something magical in the transformation of paper and bamboo into these beautiful, light-diffusing, voluminous shapes.”
Rather than simply mimic what came before, Dickens saw potential for a new evolution. “When I realized that the inherent concertinaed structure could be bent and manipulated—enabling new shapes and enhancing the function through modularity, while creating light that could divide and designate space—I became incredibly excited,” he says. Developing prototypes became a self-directed project for his studio, which generally focuses on client-based work, and he booked an exhibition space especially to display the Slinky-like results of that R&D.
Tekiō—Japanese for “adaptation”—stretches the oft-stout Chōchin into a winding, curving series of functional installations. The effect is a unique mix of airiness, with their warm, almost cloud-like glow, and industrial—were the material something more opaque and metallic, it’s not difficult to imagine these as some kind of surrealist HVAC unit.
Dickens has been tinkering with and perfecting Tekiō for almost two years now, during which time nearly everything about the product—save for the Tosa Washi paper and bamboo—has changed, he says. And while Tekiō is currently available for custom commissions, this creative pursuit is far from complete: “I still don’t consider the process to be finished!”