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A Manifesto for Colours

'Breathing Colour' in London

‘Breathing Colour’ is the title of Hella Jongerius’ latest exhibition, which is currently on show at the London Design Museum. It is an investigation of the Dutch designer’s theories and concepts about colour, illustrating such phenomena as the relationship between colour and light over the course of a day. In the Vitra Magazine, Hella Jongerius shares some of her thoughts on the project.

Colour touches so many different aspects of design: words, shapes, materials, physics, space, light. The experience of colour is completely dependent on its physical, visual, artistic and cultural context. What is the relationship between form and colour? When does a colour lift up a shape and give it a new dimension? What is the role of shadow?

Colours change in the course of a day. The morning brings us light and light brings us colour. Light starts low and gradually rises. The cold air creates a crystal clear glow with a bluish hue. Morning tones are pastel-coloured – soft but fresh, with less yellow and no black. There is a visible distinction between lightness and brightness. Diffuse morning light has a hazy feel but at the same time some bright reflections. Light starts low and moves upward, shadows are misty. Translucent becomes opaque. Shapes come into being, material becomes form – coloured light reflections.

Then comes the sharp noontime light from directly above, bringing very strong contrasts and structure. Colours look greener and take on a more reddish tone. When the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, the light intensity reaches its climax and brings brightly saturated colours to life. Sharp shadows create a powerful contrast with the energetic hues.

I have used Colour Catchers to visualize this. They are an abstraction of all the daily objects that surround me and the ultimate shapes for researching colour, shadows and reflections. They are my canvases.

In the evening, when the light is clouded with air pollution, black starts to mix into the hues, making them more passive. The forms throw shadows. A mystic world arises, where shapes merge with shadows in a whole range of blacks. We present a black still life where absorption and shadows become visible. Here we test our scotopic vision – the visual adaptation to environments during the night. The exhibition shows existing objects, and study tools, to reveal more about absorption of the different shades of black.

With this exhibition, I want to make a plea for colours that breathe. I still have the impression of being an absolute novice when it comes to colour. Even though I have already learned a great deal, I still can’t really get my head around the subject. Colour is one of those truly wonderful topics that will always keep you feeling like a beginner. It is this quality that makes colour so worthwhile – just like life itself.’

Find more information on the exhibition at the Design Museum London here:
Breathing Colour by Hella Jongerius, 28 June 2017 – 24 September 2017


Publication date: 20.7.2017
Author: Hella Jongerius
Images: Roel van Tour, copyright: Jongeriuslab. Exhibition pictures: Luke Hayes, copyright: Jongeriuslab, 2017.