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Georgios Paissidis

Issue 57 Oct / Nov 2010

In the last of our series of interviews with the lighting association presidents, Paul James talks to Georgios Paissidis, newly installed president of the Professional Lighting Designers Association (PLDA) following the early resignation of Martin Lupton

The president of the PLDA was due to be third in our series of interviews with the heads of the lighting associations. But that was in June and our subject was to be Martin Lupton who was tending his resignation a year early to concentrate on his new venture, the Light Collective, with PLDA UK coordinator Sharon Stammers. While the association has been in a state of flux with such high profile resignations (plus the retirement of Alison Ritter as director, replaced by Wim Aalders, Export Manager at We-ef) and criticism from within the organisation for a lack of transparency, a steady hand has quietly come in to steer the ship through choppy waters. His name is Georgios Paissidis, a Greek lighting designer and scholar who, whilst not being the most high profile of presidents, believes he can be a vanguard of democratic change for the organisation.

“The growth of PLDA from a small European family to the current state of some 800 members within only fifteen years was surprisingly fast,” comments Paissidis. “On the one hand it was a successful growth but on the other hand this stochastic growth resulted in an obvious representation asymmetry. Italy, with a population of some 60 million, is represented in the PLDA General Assembly by only eleven professional members, while Germany with a population of some 80 million by 30 professional members. In other words Germany possesses a threefold representation while its population is only 30% higher than that of Italy.
“France, with a population of some five million higher than that of Italy, is represented by half of the number of members. Finland, with only 8% of France’s population, is represented with the same number of voting members.

“This asymmetry in the representation of different countries doesn’t mean that France or Italy have less renowned professional lighting designers. I also can’t believe that Spain has only one professional lighting designer for every twelve million people because it is represented by only four voting members in the General Assembly. The same thing happens with Greece, where I come from. There is still a lot of work to be done in order to correct this asymmetry.”
So how will he right this imbalance?

“It makes my job difficult as I feel it’s also my duty to listen to the voice of lighting designers who are not yet members of PLDA. This is the only way to become larger, stronger and first and foremost democratic in our attempt to represent lighting designers all over the world. My purpose is not to belong to a self confident majority but rather to assimilate idle dispersed minorities, which I understand as our potential force and the potential majority of tomorrow. My origin helps me at this point as I don’t have a problem being part of a minority. What else are Greeks if not a minority in this world? The majority is a threat to democracy and equally to success, which is always an enemy to talent. Majorities want to express themselves by means of power, while democracy thrives on unbiased dialogue among minorities. The result of democracy should be a composition of opinions not the victory of a violent majority over suppressed minorities.”

When asked about the current situation of the PLDA and the hole left by the sudden resignation of Martin Lupton, Paissidis is equally philosophical.

“Every resignation on earth is a surprise as it constitutes an unexpected development compared to what was initially planned.
I couldn’t be happy with such an unexpected development. And I haven’t met anybody who was happy with this development either.
“On the other hand I was well prepared as I was confronted with my first surprise in PLDA very early on: I was the only candidate for President! Some members nominated me and I was asked if I would accept the nomination. I responded positively just to enhance democracy by offering an additional election choice among others in the relevant process. I never expected to be the only candidate and to become President of PLDA as I failed in being elected Director of Education one year ago.”

If he sees his new position as a poisoned chalice following the criticisms by past president Gad Giladi, who lambasts the association for ‘a total lack of transparency’, he is not showing it.

“These comments wouldn’t be so important if they were said by anybody else other than a Past President of PLDA like Gad Giladi. I prefer to distinguish what is said from who is saying it. It is much better to focus on the question if PLDA lacks or possesses full transparency. If I answer with a yes or no as President I am violating the major duty of a President, which is to represent all members of our Association if not potential members, who are still reluctant to join us.  I don’t know if our members know everything about PLDA governmental structures and their historical background and I also don’t know if members are interested to know everything. However mondo*arc serves the purpose of transparency at this moment with this interview by giving me the opportunity of talking about collective responsibility.”
So he does concede that there is a lack of transparency within PLDA...
“Problems of transparency always emerge in large governmental structures like Russia, where Gorbachev introduced Glasnost policy against corruption. In my view PLDA can’t be compared with Russia or Liechtenstein. We have some 170 voting members. This is not such a large community. Since this community participates in PLDA governmental activities, sharing relevant collective responsibility, transparency is immediately achieved. There is no need to inform members about their own activities in such a case. Even if all these voting members participate in an AGM and decide for some 200 Design Members without a voting right the result will not be representative. And as members come from all over the world and have to finance their trip to Milan or Frankfurt to attend an AGM they are not encouraged to do so, in particular when they are not allowed to vote.

“A first measure to rectify things would be to allow Design Members to vote. This is not easy. According to the Statutes they can’t vote and they can’t demand their rights. Anyway, participation remains the only key to transparency for PLDA. I am wondering how many Professional or Design Members visit Milan or Frankfurt (during Euroluce and Light+Building) and how many of them are absent from the AGM. I can conceive more than 50% of members abstaining from decision making in an innovative way outside the hall of the AGM without being registered as abstaining members. This is also a form of intransparency but not intentional. 

“In this regard a transparency deficit shouldn’t be handled as a crime. It is only a flaw of a governmental system, which makes it less efficient because it deprives it of faith. I will be open to any proposal how we can enhance transparency, if not participation, as nobody is against both. To creative proposals, not to criticism. From members and not from journalists.”

So what will be the main thrust of his presidency? Will he bring change to the association’s ethos?

“PLDA’s core purpose is the official recognition of the lighting design profession. In my view it is a secondary priority since so many lighting designers all over the world could thrive without this formal recognition. Moreover I am not enthusiastic about the vision of a syndicate. Lighting is rather a matter of culture and should remain so as long as it makes us question our perception.

In this regard promotion of awareness of lighting design’s importance for quality of life should be prioritised.

“It is more important for me to make people read poems than to ask a state to pay for poets’ retirement pensions.”

But surely recognition of (compared to architecture) a still immature profession is important?

“Our profession is already recognised to a certain extent. The support PLDA enjoys from leading lighting market players is an expression of such a recognition. The visual result of a felicitous lighting design concept contributes asymmetrically more to the added value of participating lighting equipment than its sole technical features without reference to the sense of their existence. A desirable lighting design concept converts specs of a product programme to key specs. Lighting design is undoubtedly the key to success also for PLDA sponsors.”
But there is life other than the PLDA and Paissidis is particularly active in research exploring the affects of lighting on health. His company, Stilvi founded in 1995, is the leading organisation in Greece in this sector carried out through its participation in international consortia. Combining highly technical and scientific knowledge of illuminating engineering with a creative and artistic approach to lighting design, Stilvi is capable of working out unique and original lighting concepts for a very wide range of lighting design, light art and research projects.
His research activity is orientated to the fields of daylight, light guiding systems and optimisation of light propagation which, for him, is an indispensable tool for the development of truly modern and innovative lighting applications and, at the same time, the basis for a long-lasting and sustainable superiority. This has led him to a particular field of research relating to the perception of light.

“My lighting heroes are blind people. Their imagination makes the world emerge from the darkness. Their inspirations are relieved of visual illusions and allow them an immediate relation to truth. They are completely blind, while we are only partially blind, as we can’t perceive bacteria and microbes floating in the air due to certain limits of our visual acuity and we can’t perceive infrared or ultraviolet radiation. Nevertheless we have the illusory impression that we can see everything. This is a sort of arrogance. Conversely, blind people are not exposed to such an extent to this form of arrogance.”

So how do those of us who are fully sighted overcome this ‘arrogance’?
“By exploring our underestimated and possibly disdained blindness resources. The eye isn’t necessarily the most important and surely not the sole part of our body. Therefore it’s wrong to say that we can’t perceive infrared or ultraviolet radiation. While our eye can’t notice everything, our body feels the heat of IR radiation and reacts to UV with vitamin D synthesis. Similarly our body reacts to visible radiation. The only difference is that research about the non visual biological effects of visible radiation on human organisms has a short history compared to respective research about the effects of the invisible part of spectrum.
“As our disposition is tightly associated with our body condition, non-visual effects of lighting can make us differentiate our view of visual environment. Human Perception is not only cognitive and biased by our personal history of vision but also prone to mood differentiation. My last research project about the evaluation of the healing potential of sunsets on SAD patients in November focuses on this particularity of our perception.”

A spiritual man, Paissidis has room in his scientific reasoning for the presence of divine consequences. How does this square with his scientific approach to lighting?

“Your question makes me remember the truth, plainly expressed in the Psalm: O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all: the earth is full of your riches. (Psalm 104:24)
“It’s not only me but a lot of well known lighting designers, who notice the divine wisdom behind the diversity of natural light manifestations.
“One day I decided to carry my photometrical equipment to the beach just to explore the secrets of this wise light composition, when the sun is mirrored on sea water. I couldn’t imagine that the shifting of our brightness sensitivity to the range of 30 Kcd/m2 would make luminances below 1000 cd/m2 appear black, practically invisible. Just water surface orientation helps glare reduction. Wasn’t it the recipe for diverse secondary reflectors’ patterns?

“From this point of view I do admire Christian Bartenbach. But not for his ‘invention’ and development of secondary reflectors’ technique. I admire his virtue to pay attention to details of our visual environment. This is why he can acquire, evaluate, use and transmit knowledge.”
A compliment that can just as easily be attributed to Georgios Paissidis, philosopher and president of the PLDA.


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