CAROLINE ZIMBALIST, FLOWER
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The lighting industry: a conversation about design, materials and the LED bulbs

New York artist Caroline Zimbalist centers her work around sustainable, biodegradable lighting options, thriving to infuse an excess-consumption-society with thoughtfulness

Today, standardized LED bulbs are common descendants, used across households globally. A survey carried out by Statista in 2017 demonstrated that 56 percent of the surveyed U.S. households used light-emitting diode bulbs, while 43 percent declare to use incandescent bulbs, 39 percent compact fluorescent bulbs, and 6 percent high-intensity discharge bulbs. LED lights are known as the most energy-efficient lighting technologies on the market, tending to last five to ten times longer than their halogen equivalent, quoting the European Commission. Though LED bulbs tend to be energy-efficient juxtaposed to incandescent bulbs, their production entails more metals such as aluminum, copper, silver or zinc. During an Impact assessment on the effects the production of the bulbs has on the environment, financed by the United States Government in 2012, scientists measured fifteen indicators of impact. Amongst the indicators were the aspects of global warming, ozone layer depletion, photochemical oxidation, acidification of soil and water caused by the emission of pollutants, eutrophication – the reaction of an ecosystem to the entry of extreme nutrient loads, or ecosystem damage, during the manufacturing phase. This assessment revealed that LED lamps require less power, yet they are linked to associated impacts, as their production requires added components. 

The concept to illuminate the dark during night and winter days engendered the invention of the portable light in 70.000BCE. The pioneer of descendants such as the lanterns, torches, wall lamp, or street lights was presented in a hollow rock or shell and padded with an absorbent material like moss, soaked in animal fat. These prototypes were reconditioned, with their replacements being made from pottery or metal – materials convincing with longevity, durability, and decorative character. Responding to explosions in North East coal mines, Sir Humphrey Davy, a British chemist, invented the safety lamp in 1815. The lamp’s container ended in a grid, metal chimney, allowing the flame to emit light while remaining ring-fenced. This innovation contributed to the industrialization of Britain. During the 1870s, two inventors worked on creating the electric light bulb, Joseph Swan – a chemist – and Thomas Edison.

Sustainability linked to the lighting industry is not only connected to energy-friendly bulbs, but it approaches materials for lampshades, sourcing, manufacturing, and transportation – factors contributing to the product’s carbon footprint. «I only use LED bulbs due to the heat and environmental component of this option», says Caroline Zimbalist, interdisciplinary artist, and lamp designer. A New York-based artist works with biodegradable plastics to create the outer shell of lamps, merging fashion, science, and engineering while seeking to find sustainable options for her decorative objects. «During my time at Parsons School of Design, the tutors drilled us with sustainable approaches in the niche of sculpturing, fashion, and design. There is a pressure in the arts sector to be sustainable – if you do not follow this aspect, you might get tossed». Zimbalist graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2019 – a time during which she was involved in the founding of her eponymous brand. «Sustainability for me spans the work with natural materials, creating them from scratch, transforming, repurposing and reusing pieces». While creating clothing collections, planters, or sculptures, utilizing an acrylic pouring technique to emulate landscape sights on the designs, she established her industry reputation with her lamp designs, with shapes and patterns drawing inspiration from the Anthropocene and deconstructed landscapes. «I reinterpret and visualize them. Taking these subjects, precepted by negativity and bringing awareness to these matters», she explains. «Before designing my pieces, I look at the photographer Edward Burtynsky. He gives these views on oil or sault pants, through which I gain ideas for colors and texture of my designs». That lamps would be the focus of her brand was not chosen intentionally, yet does she find passion in creating light sculptures. 

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Blossoming lamp, Caroline Zimbalist

The term bioplastic derives from renewable resources and is used to describe the sustainable plastic option. To accomplish the biodegradable solution, Zimbalist utilizes agar powder sourced from marine red algae. Agar is extracted by boiling the red algae, which, when cooled, turns into jelly. To achieve the plastic alternative, the artist mixes the agar powder with boiling water, stirring it into a monogamous mixture before pouring it onto a flat surface to dry. «To prevent shrinkage or breakage, I coat the pieces in the epoxy hardener. I am currently looking into sustainable solutions and ideas on how to make biodegradable resin from scratch». Sculpted into lampshade shapes, the pieces are being fixated on a metal cage to avoid the material touching the LED bulbs. «The material stands the heat, whether coated with epoxy or not». Biodegradable material options convince with their eco-friendliness. The fact that Zimbalist’s solution releases no carbon emissions but instead benefits plants and the environment spurs the artist to expand her idea and designs, transporting it to the outdoors. «I plan to do lamps and large scale sculptures that can be installed outdoors and create a landmark. By researching and looking into the materials, I want to find ways to make them interact with nature, move in the wind, and provide something to the environment»The slow shift of the furniture and decorative industry towards sustainable solutions. Zimbalist refers to an industry issue: «We can see that large companies incorporate eco-friendly materials and call themselves out to be sustainable. They disregard the other aspects contributing to the term of sustainability. Customers expect a certain standard – the experimentation with natural products is gradual. It is brewing». After Zimbalist, the Covid-19 pandemic makes its contribution to the evolution of sustainable solutions and elevates the essence of craftsmanship and the handmade. «Where everything is headed in terms of mass production and material sourcing, there will be a push for natural resources. Mycelium mushroom leather furniture is in demand at the moment. When these resources give us functionality and appearance, why wouldn’t we use them?»

IMAGE GALLERY

Caroline Zimbalist
Hudson Yards, New York
[email protected]

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