By Vijaya Cherian
The success or failure of a stage dramatic production today depends as much on the performance of the actors as it does on the design of the stage, the lighting and the acoustics. Japanese lighting designer, Akari - Lisa Ishii, who came to the Light Middle East Conference in Dubai last month, speaks about the role of lighting in entertainment productions and the philosophy of lighting.
How did you become a lighting designer?
Architecture and urbanism used to fascinate me when I was in school. After getting a Masters degree in Fine Arts in Tokyo, I went to study in Paris. It is there that I became aware of the importance of light in the urban context, and fascinated with the meaning and usage of light in performing arts as well as other applications, being architectural or commercial. It is then that I started seeing myself as a designer of light.
How did you get involved in event lighting?
Event lighting is very unique compared to other lighting applications. It is concentrated, temporary, exciting, intense, bold, sharp, and above all, it is meant to create an impact upon an audience, or create an emphasis on a performance element at a given time. Event lighting needs far more than a designer; it needs a creator of light.
In earlier times, when there was an open or an outdoor stage, the action was limited to and dependent upon natural illumination at the particular place and time of day, be it sunlight, moonlight, starlight, daybreak, sunset or dusk. Indoors, the only light available was a torch, a candle or two, or a flickering blaze that formed a fireplace.
With the harnessing of electricity and the emergence of modern electronic gadgets and techniques, the importance of stage lighting for stage dramatic production increased a thousand-fold. Stage and event lighting design are now a mixture of advanced electronic technology and art.
What is the skill set necessary for stage and event lighting design?
I would say sensibility, originality, and technical knowledge. What you're looking for in an event is harmony and symbiosis; the performance, the audience, the set up needs to be one. I think my sensibility as a woman brings a lot to the equation, apart from the cultural heritage, obviously.
How would you describe your design style?
In Japanese they say: wabi sabi. These are two concepts that put together mean ‘tranquillity, simplicity, balance', but also ‘liveliness'. I believe this is my style. It is harmonious but also lively and bold, not dull or conventional.
Do you think that design is an autonomous cultural expression?
The term ‘design' is used too much today. But, yes, I think it is an independent cultural expression. And proof of it is that you have design-driven disciplines and industries.
Which of your projects has given you the most satisfaction?
I have gained professional experience in leading lighting design practices in Tokyo, Paris and New York, before I found my own independent practice I.C.O.N. Inc. in Paris in 2004. And my work has been very diverse.
Besides event lighting, I have worked on light planning projects, like the one with Burgos Municipality (Spain), architectural lighting, such as Metz Pompidou Centre, and many residential and commercial centres. I get a lot of satisfaction from working on seasonal projects such as Christmas lighting for obvious reasons.
But one of the most challenging projects I worked on was the World Heritage Musical Festival in Kyoto in 2006. It was the type of project where the artistic sensibility was key to selecting the right lighting approach.
The whole event set up was really impressive, and lighting had the role of initiating and maintaining in dialogue between the performers, the audience, the nature and the environment of Kyoto, and history at a higher level. The lighting design I chose took all these factors into account, and the result was at times luminous and energetic, brief and condensed. The event was internationally broadcast and constituted one of the most significant events of the year.
What have you discussed at the ELDA+ Light Focus Conference?
Event lighting. I have presented the subject from a holistic perspective, just like my work approach. I wanted to show designers how they could use light and colour to underline the correlation between architecture and space, and how emotion is driven by this mix.