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Francesco Iannone

Issue 67 Jun / Jul 2012

Beatrice Santini talks to Italian lighting designer Francesco Iannone, the former PLDA president, who, after a busy year with the association, is ready to pursue his own interests again.

When Francesco Iannone was asked to once again head the Professional Lighting Designers’ Association (PLDA) following concerns about its presumed lack of transparency and democracy, the Italian was only too pleased to take on the peacekeeping role until the new President, Herbert Cybulska, could be elected in April. The outcome, according to Iannone, has been very positive.

“In every organisation there are positive and negative phases,” explains Iannone. “Most of the negative ones coincide with periods of great change that are very rarely painless. PLDA is like a restaurant that has became so popular it has to employ more specialist chefs to work in different sections of the kitchen to keep up with demand. Some from the old guard may resent this and suffer from it for a while, that is something I regret, but in the end this is proof of the association’s success.”

While playing down the gravity of the situation, he has underlined the prospects of a possible alliance with the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD). It is an alliance that could overcome the inevitable competition following the enlargement of ELDA (then renamed as ELDA+ and now as PLDA) beyond European borders. Some years ago a failed attempt was made to merge the two associations. Today an agreement seems very realistic, its foundation being the global recognition of the lighting design profession.

Now that Iannone has carried out his mission and led the PLDA to a stronger position there will be “less politics and more projects” at his lighting design studio Consuline, based in Milan, co-founded by Iannone and his partner in business and in life, Serena Tellini.

Iannone was born in Bari, Italy in 1951.He holds a Degree in Architecture and has been involved in lighting for over 30 years. Lately he has deepened his interest in the neurosciences and the possibility of applying the founding principles to lighting works of art. His studies and its applications were put to good use at Vincenzo Bellini’s exhibition in Rome in 2008 and, last year, at an exhibition of works by another Renaissance master, the Venetian Lorenzo Lotto. His work relates to the discovery of the ‘mirror neuron’ in the ‘90s that is based on the idea that we actually see things with our eyes but we “look at” them with our brain. This has enabled an interesting set of theories about the human perception of shapes and colours. Iannone’s research started from these suppositions and with the continuous progress of LED technology.

Collaboration with Italian lighting company Targetti allowed the application of these principles to the exhibition in Rome. This led to the development of white light LED projectors that stimulate the tridimensional perception of the works of art in the neuronal area.

“I do not consider Lorenzo Lotto’s exhibition to be the end of my research,” explains Iannone, “but rather another step in a journey that began many years ago.”

Everything started with a coincidence: “I was in Stockholm in the same hall where a few days earlier the Nobel Prize ceremony had taken place. At some point, a colleague of mine told me that I was sitting on the same chair as the Italian neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolati, the man who had been a candidate for the Nobel Prize for having discovered the mirror neuron. I was intrigued by this and I have pursued these studies ever since.”

Apart from the Rome exhibition and the experiments Consuline is carrying out with Osram and the Gaiani Foundation on the 400 frescoes of Zavattari’s Chapel in Monza, the neurosciences’ principles can be successfully applied well beyond the arts field. To modify an environment with lighting, allowing the improvement of the human perception of space and in this way inducing wellbeing is, in Iannone’s views, the new frontier in lighting design.

“Debra Burnett, an expert in the new field of epigenetics, has established a new theory relating to the processes that environmental light can enhance both in human behaviour and physiology, such as learning, efficient behaviour, productivity, the achievement of standards and reproduction. I myself believe that light, if appropriately balanced, can have a greatly positive impact on the improvement of human life,” Iannone claims.

The enthusiasm in his work and the trust in the new scientific frontiers of planning, paint the portrait of a man in constant change, both intellectually and literally. Starting from the top roles taken at the PLDA, an active role at the Design Permanent Observatory that assigns the Compasso d’Oro, the most important Italian Prize in design, up to the presidency of international juries and conferences, Iannone could be seen not only as a globetrotter of his profession but also a connoisseur of all that goes on in this field.

Iannone weighs his words, at times out of discretion, often as a way of genuinely not wanting to tempt fate. “I have two black cats, I am quite superstitious,” he says of himself.

He speaks his mind when it comes to offering his thoughts about the present situation of the lighting design profession in Italy, where progress seems to be held back compared to other countries. “The fault can be found in the system that gives huge power to the distribution chains and allows the manufacturers to not only sell the product but also to give lighting design services free of charge. In my view, this is the worst hindrance against the development of the profession, much more than bureaucracy. How can young people find their way in such a difficult and complex situation? Our country is full of talented people, fantastic ideas and an historic and cultural heritage that have no equal in the whole world. But when we speak of completed projects – and I mean quality projects realised by an independent lighting designer – the outcome is not satisfying. I myself work half of the time abroad!”

Culturally there have been some improvements, especially thanks to the efforts of the national and international representative associations and the educational programmes they organise autonomously and in collaboration with Euroluce and Intel, the two most important Italian expos in this field. In spite of the modest practical effects of this commitment, Iannone still shows his strong temperament and better intentions: “It is on a worldwide basis that we must face this difficult situation because it is only through connecting to what is going on all over the world that we can reach measurable outcomes. Sweden is among the most advanced countries in this respect, because of the credibility, the authoritativeness that everyone – government and public opinion – acknowledges to the lighting design profession as an independent profession. This is the ideal we should try to reach.”


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