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François Migeon

Issue 56 Aug / Sep 2010

As well as founding the agency ‘Grandeur Nature’ in 1983 and co-creating (alongside Georges Berne) the 8’8” agency in 2008, François Migeon has, for the last three years, been President of the ACE - the Association des Concepteurs lumière et Eclairagistes (the French Association of Lighting Designers). Vincent Laganier met with François to learn his views on the nature of light.

As a Plasticien artist concerned with his surroundings, François Migeon began by painting murals. “A wall exists as a surface, rather than being recognised as a building block of the city. It can be brought to life in an instant. We perceive it very precisely in the dense city fabric. It’s like a blank page on which to tell a story.

“For me, the work of Plasticien artists is very important, as it is what provided me with my inspiration. I worked in the city for 15 years and I was put in touch with architects and city planners. Then I decided to propel myself into the three dimensional world. In 3D, you begin to create movements in an entirely different respect. You can effectively bring new perspectives to the city, by constructing a sculpture you’re proposing your own interpretation of the space.”

The agency ‘Grandeur Nature’ was founded in 1983. François Migeon worked in the urban art genre, teaming up with Michelle Salmon up until 2003. “The scale is the referent for the project, the perception of the work only exists in relation to the scale of the city,” he says.
“I feel that lighting design was developed through urban art. I found myself immediately wanting to light up my sculptures. And by lighting up I mean physically lighting up. Bit by bit, the material weathered away, and all that was left was the light. I forgot about the daytime, and penetrated the night instead.

“Also around that time, I made a significant acquaintance called Georges Berne, when I was a student at Arts Appliqués [Applied Arts college]. We used to study together. While developing my ability, I would watch my friend developing in the light; this was a real starting point for the lighting design profession.”

The experience and the views of Georges Berne seduced Migeon: “When I was working on one of my first sculptures, I asked him: How can I light it up? Immediately, he asked me to help with a small project he was working on. I helped him with the Picasso Museum. I was his minature workforce. He developed a responsiveness to light within me.”
Georges Berne is a leading museum specialist. François Migeon is, above all, a city specialist. The 8’18” agency was developed in 2008 to allow the two of them uniting over lighting design. “8’8” is the time it takes for a photon to travel to the sun and back,” says Migeon. “Our aim was to create an agency that could, in terms of its capability, provide development possibilities for the lighting design profession.
“The French lighting designers themselves are not well-known abroad, yet their accomplishements are. Many architects have taken us with them around the world, we think it’s brilliant.

“On the whole, we run an agency under the umbrella term of lighting design, but also, as President of the ACE, I believe that the profession has to restructure and modify itself to be able to confront both the research departments in the sector who only have technical knowledge, and the lighting design agencies of the world. Agencies like Speirs and Major, for example, and other European agencies like them have the capacity to take on large million euro projects. In France, we hope to achieve this also, so that we can compete effectively in that kind of marketplace, but you need an incredibly diverse team of people. At the moment our agency has 14 employees: lighting designers and Plasticien artists, managers, designers, engineers, architects and landscape architects.

“With regard to the current issue concerning urban lighting, I think there’s one question we need to ask ourselves: What is the difference between living in the city compared to the country? To answer this, we need to look back to the 70s and 80s when dormitory towns were built on the outskirts of cities. They had no life because they were bereft of businesses, and had no activity. Different from the traditional city model, they didn’t light up the areas with the most activity. A dormitory town is a town where all you do is sleep, in darkness. It’s a place that doesn’t know how to exist at night!”

François Migeon also discusses the concept of urbanity: “It’s before a space can truly take part in an aesthetic or before the light has really made any impact. There are some cities that make me feel good because they have been lit intelligently, and certain spaces have been singled out. There are the places which my eyes pause on, monuments that absorb the light, perspectives that attract my gaze. This sense of urbanity doesn’t mean that cities necessarily have to be lit up, or that they have to become postcard perfect where the beautiful monuments are lit up, leaving the other less notable places in darkness. Urbanity is a hierarchy in which there is an urban noctural composition.

“I am becoming more and more adverse to lighting projects that make a city look like a street furniture catalogue. It’s ridiculous, it irritates me profusely! Even more so when the neighbouring village does the same thing! We need to stop generalising spaces with light and instead characterise them according to their function and position in the city, the way they are used, their rhythms... everything that identifies a space.”
When you ask François Migeon about the concept of colour, he says he thinks about... “White. It’s the most beautiful colour. It served me well in the colour period of my work. It’s a colour you use to excentuate the matter or the material. I’m currently making changes to my way of working. I think that white light has such a fine quality, when you think about white you can think about a very large palette of colours. A colour is in fact white when it loses a part of its spectrum. I’m going to start working more with white again or with less saturated colours.”


So why is the ACE (Association des Concepteurs lumière et Eclairagistes) the Association of Lighting Designers using two lighting functions to describe the profession? François Migeon said: “It’s really the story of light. It’s an association that was developed from various genres, like cinema and theatre, that use mainly ‘Eclairagiste’. The lighting engineering people spoke also about ‘Eclairagiste’. The role of a lighting designer was developed mainly due to the public’s sensitivity to the landscape, architecture and the work of Plasticien artists. Their projects were supported by a lighting concept. So the profession came from various places. That’s what gives the French lighting designers so much depth.”

“The idea is to work the perennial light of the city, the landscape and the architecture. Light has an incredibly important role for those who work with architecture and the landscape. The ACE makes builders and project managers aware that the management of light is a profession. As an intermediary, we put names of agencies who are able to respond to all issues related to lighting on our website.”

“We’re involved with long-term projects to aid sustainable development, including visiting cities and organising training”, says Migeon.
•Their next contributions to free expression, the next ‘Rendez-vous with ACE’ on sustainable development are scheduled for September 2010. This is an opportunity to meet with the people who promote the idea of HQE in cities (High levels of Environmental Quality): architects, town planners, landscape architects, ADEME, and the night sky and tourism people. ADEME is the Environmental Agency for the Management of Energy in France [l’Agence De L’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Energie en France].
•From Bordeaux to Nantes, the ACE has organised visits to cities and light courses. These visits allow lighting designers to get together and are very inspiring. For François Migeon the advantage is that “they aren’t alone in their work and they take on board the views of others.”
•In Lyon, with the help of the city and CDO, for five years the ACE has been organising ‘Lumiville’ prizes for lighting design. Lyon is a member of the LUCI Association, and of ‘Cluster Lumière’ which aims to unite and develop the lighting expertise in the Rhône-Alpes.
•Along with the training, ACE are currently developing a first and a second level Masters in lighting design. “It’s incredible that we have actually gained a reputation in France and Worldwide even though lighting designers haven’t yet had any training in the country! The idea is to have training which deals with both the technical aspect and the project work like architects versus landscape architects” he explains.
•In terms of publications, each term the association produces ‘A Letter from ACE’, in which they write about different themes related to lighting design. A document called ‘The Open Book’ also links the association with the notion of sustainable development.
•The ACE hopes to talk to other assocations in view of partaking in joint ventures, not necessarily just in France.


Lighting Heroes?
“Bob Wilson, he made me truly perceive light in his Orlando production at the Odeon Theatre in Paris in 1993. There are also other artists like Claude Lévêque, Ange Leccia or James Turrell who I’ve been impressed by. I’ve also been drawn to François Seigneur, and Piotr Kowalski who have produced lighting sculptures like urban art. I’ve seen some dance companies who do some great things with light.”

Memorable Projects?

“I concentrate on each project in turn so that it’s always the most important project. The redevelopment of the Zamansky tour at a university in the Jussieu area of Paris is one of them.”

Notable Projects?
“The Espeyran’s Sabatier museum in Montpellier shows furniture reconstructed in their original contexts. We offered to do a lighting piece on superimposition, which didn’t fit with the style of the work. We were allowed to redesign the ceiling in a very simple and contemporary way. In the end, I felt that the lighting supported the original idea really well.”

Current Projects?
“We have a lovely project in the Paris area, in Bois d’Arcy, where there’s a protected nature reserve. I think I should start my job all over again and ask myself some fundamental questions. You need to have real intelligence to be able to slip light into the countryside where you shouldn’t notice it.”

Toughest Projects?
“At the moment I’m taking part in a competition with Rem Koolhaas and Kilo architecture. I would love to do a project together, I admire them so much. I would also love to work with the architects Herzog & De Meuron.”

Any projects you would like to change?
“I would really like to revisit the Tour Perret project in Amiens to work on the colours a bit more, because new technologies have been developed now.”

Project you like?
“Tower of Winds by Toyo Ito in Japan, who plays with lighting various kinds of structures. I was also very impressed by the last projects Georges Berne did with Claire Lise Bague, with lighting up Nessun Dorma in Beijing. It’s an extremely perceptive piece with a rare elegance to it.”

Project you dislike?
“The 200 year anniversary celebrations of the Eiffel Tower. It’s an absolute disaster! The lighting completely contradictes the architecture, the colours are insipid, the movements devoid of concept, it’s very far away from the work and the quality you would expect from a professional light show.”


Pic: Sophie Roussel-Tixier
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