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Cypress Lamp
Or, Chasing the Light


May, 2022


Being from North America, I've always felt a certain longing for the Mediterranean Cypress. It's everywhere in the work of my favorite painters. A few sublime examples:

It's so radical a departure from the form of your average tree. 

Perhaps it's no wonder that even in Europe, an exotic aura, at times verging on the mystic, has been attached to it.

[A reproduction of the Böcklin painting Isle of the Dead*] could be found in every Berlin home.

Vladimir Nabakov, 1936

*the second painting in the gallery above

Particularly of interest to me is the arrangement of its trunks and branches, the way they writhe and wriggle as they rise. I tried to capture this emotion/geometry in this piece, entitled "Chasing the Light".

I designed it in the CAD program Rhino Grasshopper, giving it six 'tiers'.

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Points are inserted at random within various tiers inside a 3D grid

Each tier is defined by 24 points, one for each of the 24 branches. The lowermost tiers have the greatest randomness injected into the points' coordinates, the uppermost the least. Upward lines are then created by connecting points in each of the tiers. 


This approach yields branches that toss and turn less and less as they rise, chasing the light, and ultimately finding it. 

Ironically enough for such a complex shape (with myriad functional requirements as well; it has to accommodate a light bulb socket and power cord, after all), only two print iterations were needed. 

An artist's fantasy: cycling through infinite possibilities with one mouse click

The real difficulty only arose when tackling the simplest part - the lamp shade. 

I found that the light of a mini-bulb, even at max wattage, hardly penetrated a single wall of 0.4 mm PLA plastic. I thus resolved to use a neat technique I saw pioneered in a recent study at the MIT Media Lab, where a printer was calibrated to significantly underextrude, resulting in not so much an opaque surface as a translucent fabric.

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Who would have thought that 'failure' in the form a 'defextile' (i.e. defective textile) was actually a sign of success?

It took dozens of trials to find the print settings that yielded a 'fabric' with the desired transparency, strength, and printability. 

The result, I hope, is a fine lighting fixture with a bit of soothing allegory to boot. 

Update July 2022: the Cypress Lamp will go on exhibit this fall at the New Britain Museum of American Art. 

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