Life and Light

A few weeks ago, during my visit to Sweden’s capital, I was lucky enough to be invited to the opening day of the Nordic Light exhibition in Nordiska Museet. The exhibition in Sweden’s largest museum of cultural history focuses on exploring the way light affects the way we live our lives, looking at both natural and artificial light through centuries.

Of course, what makes light in higher latitudes so much more interesting, is a large difference in natural light conditions between the seasons. The lack of natural light during winter months is one of the main reasons why the luminaire design industry is so developed in Scandinavia nowadays. “Nordic light” exhibition contains a beautifully displayed timeline of lamp and light source development over more than 100 years. If you are passing through, or based in Stockholm, it is well worth a visit – not only to admire the exhibits, but the masterfully executed dynamic and interactive lighting of the whole show.

Initially, you will be guided into a very dimly illuminated space which focuses on tellurium – a model of the Earth’s and Moon’s movements, which, supported by artwork, talks about the dynamism of natural light. The lighting here is subtle and gently moves across the room, guiding the story forward. Soon enough, you will find yourself learning about fire, flickering flames and dancing shadows, and of how, not so long ago, it used to be the very centre of the household. Candlelight was reserved for festivals and celebrations. Most often used in churches, this type of light symbolised goodness, as well as good social standing, if one was to use candles at home.

Introduction Nordic Light Exhibition Nordiska Museet

In the 18th century, the paraffin lamp was introduced, which enabled everyone to have a bright, portable light source at home. On display here you can find some of the most beautiful glass shades with delicately decorated metalwork, followed by 20th century electric lights in all sorts of funky materials, shapes and sizes. The exhibition goes on to talk about urban lighting as well as the importance of fighting the increasingly large problem of light pollution (Laura Voss talks about this very topic in a recent blog post – have a read here).

Paraffin Lamps Nordic Light Exhibition Nordiska Museet

Electric Lamps Nordic Light Exhibition Nordiska Museet

The second part of the exhibition showcases 120 of the most well-known decorative luminaires through the past 120 years. Again, displayed as a timeline, you can see the original Art Nouveau, Modernist or Postmodernist pieces, as well as the “Home Décor Boom” – shapes, materials and functions have certainly changed over the years. During some periods the guiding idea behind good luminaire design was exceptional craftsmanship and decoration, during others it was glare reduction, ease of manufacturing, or low cost.

PH Lamp Poul Henningsen Nordic Light Exhibition Nordiska Museet

Pop Revolution Nordic Light Exhibition Nordiska Museet

Finally, and if this doesn’t make you visit, nothing will – you can experience the Northern Lights! A limited number of visitors at a time can enter a very very dark space, and as their eyes slowly adjust, the sensation of dancing waves in the starry “sky” becomes increasingly prominent. The sudden sense of being surrounded by aurora borealis, while still being warm and cosy, is definitely a nice way to spice up your average weekend!

Blog post and images by Bojana Nikolic