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Lady of the Lamps

Photos by Elliott Shaffner

It's an off-night at Electronic Orphanage on Chinatown's Chung King Road. Nonetheless, Beverly Tang can't find an electrical outlet for her lamps — not with the screening tests and DJs setting up decks, and then there are the dogs wandering through the gallery. As the event coordinator for Rhizome.LA, an online new-media arts salon, Tang is used to being surrounded by a day-to-day whirl of activity: information architects, scientists, designers and artists who make code-based music, play around with artificial intelligence, turn mathematical problems into art. But right now, Tang, who in 1996 while a student at UC San Diego started designing lamps — more like lighting sculptures really — just needs a plug.


Spine #0014, aluminum and
rubber and blue LEDs


"Architecture was my first love, but they cancelled that program while I was at UCSD," says Tang. "I ended up majoring in film." The connection, so to speak, becomes obvious when her lamps are finally turned on. Light emerges in abstract framed patterns, somewhat like holding a filmstrip up to an overhead bulb. When turned off, her most recent series of lamps resembles some sort of supercyborg's anatomy. "I love the spine as a shape and as a collection of shapes with that stacking motion," says Tang, who uses numerical names for her lamps based on dates — perhaps the day a piece was conceived — or maybe just a random collection of numerals, or the number of rings a lamp contains.

The slick attention to form is equaled only by the scrupulous consideration given to the way light moves within, through and out of a lamp. In fact, light is another material to be molded, twisted and stacked just like glass or wood: She's experimented with fiber-optic strands and LEDs as main building ingredients. "By working light in this sculptural way," explains Tang, "you can shape spaces that are entirely visual. And if you consider color too, light can affect the mood of the room in significant ways."


Spine #0625, aluminum and
red LEDs


Although she says her day job for the most part doesn't inspire her lamp making, she does incorporate innovative tech-y tools such as Form Z, a graphics-engineering software program usually used by architects and 3-D character animators that allows her to get more precise measurements, which streamlines the process of building a 3-D prototype.

She began her collection of spine pieces after teaching herself metalworking, welding and riveting. "But I can't just start piecing things together," she says. "I draw first. I had this great idea for a lamp, and I drew it out and it was awful. The concept has to be worked out on paper." Once she has the design down, Tang — who officially started her lamp business, Sublimina, in 2001 — gets busy manufacturing the pieces herself. She starts off using a kind of rotating saw called a mill, and then shapes the cut metal with a lathe. This hands-on approach gives her more flexibility to experiment with different materials. She's recently expanded her business beyond one-of-a-kind pieces, farming out production so she can increase the number of styles she offers. New lamps are being made in materials that include rubber, anodized aluminum and black leather, and the LEDs or fiber optics will come in a variety of colors.

"I always wanted to go back to school for design or something related to that," notes Tang, "but if you're motivated to do something, you can find a way to make it."

Sublimina is available at Lucas L.A., 8816 Beverly Blvd., (310) 777-8816; for more information, log on to www.sublimina.com.

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