Interviewed in Osijeku on 27 September 2013
In a showroom in Osijek which is also the location of the company with a witty name Aje-to, we talked to Vladimir Križanić, a light designer and creator of lighting objects. The Osijek company Aje-to was established 21 years ago and it deals with original and contemporary lighting design and production of lighting.
ORIS: We could perhaps start our conversation with the name – Aje-to. What comes to mind first is naturally the popular Czech cartoon about two incredibly clumsy characters, Pat & Mat, who always try to fix something but get into more trouble. It is logical to assume that you had that in mind when you selected the name for the company.
Vladimir Križanić: The name is thirty years old. When we thought about the name for our company, the first thing that came to mind was light, lux etc. but it all seemed boring and without a character. When A je to was suggested, we shuffled those three words into two Aje-to which in effect means nothing. We applied Japanese design to these letters and came up with our logo. The association to the cartoon, which we like, remains but this is also why it is easy to remember it. On the other hand, if I draw the line and imagine all of us, our civilization, Aje-to could stand for all of us. Because everything that we have done so far seems so imperfect in comparison to a leaf, a tree or anything coming from nature, which is perfect. Everything that I have achieved here, what Rolls Royce has achieved, anyone – it is all in effect Aje-to. In that sense the name of the company has something to do with that cartoon.
ORIS: Talking about this predetermination that human products have some integrated imperfection or that by solving one problem, they generate another, such as the mentioned cartoon characters, is it perhaps possible to take their model as purely positive? Namely, they frequently solve their problem ad hoc, with tools that have a different purpose. They use some imperfect situations as a source of something that is not only creative but also as a source of some aesthetic pleasure or a witty joke. For instance, I can recognize this feature in your lamps. By a witty use of all sorts of elements which perhaps do not belong exclusively to light design, you seem to solve every problem of lighting.
Vladimir Križanić: It need not be perfect but I am convinced that a certain level of the quality of production must exist. The whole team participates in creating a lighting unit, which means that we develop the idea of my design; while working on the prototype we solve technical details and find solutions and then we start with the production. Naturally, without losing the original idea. It is very important that the same people work for the company since it was established, and these are the people I understand and we have progressed together in this process. Because, no matter how good it may be, my idea as pure design means nothing. It has to be given life and this happens in the process of physical creation of a lamp. It is in that process where all our experience, good and bad, finds a brand new solution to a problem. Then, the lamp is ready to be used and that is the final goal of the whole process, then it receives its purpose.
ORIS: We could say that in your approach light itself is far more important than the lamp whereas the majority of products on the market deal more with design of the lamp than light itself. Where does this idea come from and what are the intentions behind it?
Vladimir Križanić: It is hard to remain consistent. Naturally, I want to satisfy the aesthetic aspect as well but I think that first of all every product has to be functional. In that sense the most important aspect of a lamp is light, this must not be neglected. Every space, that is, its purpose has specific requirements that must be adapted to. Some interiors require long forms, other oval, small, bigger ones... but the very effect that is achieved by light is the purpose of any lamp. We do lighting for various spaces: churches, libraries, clinics, offices, apartments, houses, cafes... Hence, the very space dictates how to solve the problem of lighting. It is the matter of opinion, somebody might make something just because they like the way it looks and it does not matter that when you sit on a chair, you get a backache. I, on the other hand, think that all I do needs to have a purpose, an applicable value and should make you feel good. And the proof that this is the right way for us lies in the fact that we can find our lamps from 10 or 20 years ago still in use and that the owners still like them. That is the right thing.
ORIS: How difficult is it to compete with industrial production? Is it possible in Croatian circumstances to compete against large distributors with, essentially, an almost unique product?
Vladimir Križanić: I think that we have reached quite a high level, although we still need to work on our marketing that we actually do not have. All these years we have been working by word of mouth and we can make it since the feedback is positive. It is marvellous. However, on the one hand, the fact that we produce lighting units which we try to adapt as much as possible to a specific space and application is time and energy consuming and such units are only realized in a single project. On the other hand, this also opens up new cooperation possibilities with architects and investors who need to have their entire lighting solved, from design to production. We recently completed such an order comprising 2500 lamps.
ORIS: That is a serious quantity.
Vladimir Križanić: Studio 3lhd worked on the Amarin settlement and the tender included 2500 items of one of our lamps. It is a batch where we work on a single product for a month, from production, certificate, packaging... while usually, as now, for instance, we work in three apartments, each of which has 15 of our lamps which are completely different. That is a more complex process.
ORIS: That is the problem. In a way it can happen that this positive boom caused by a big order can have a counter effect since it is questionable whether it can be done at all on such a short notice.
Vladimir Križanić: I think that our capacities are bigger than what we usually use, unfortunately. We have completed that order in a month and before the deadline. It is important to organize work well; of course, we use our long-term experience as well as our enthusiasm when such a challenge emerges. I am very proud of all who have been taking part in that process and I can see that there are a number of possibilities, because by having done so, we have proven that we can do large projects with high quality and on time. We have been negotiating distribution of our lamps on the Western European market so there are still other possibilities. Even though my goal is to produce unique items. Long time ago, when we were creating the first Gjuro, we made, I do not know, twenty different lamps that were really good, almost ahead of time. They had a soul and light and their own form.
ORIS: Judging by this interior, it seems that your ambition is to deal not only with lamp design but interior design as well.
Vladimir Križanić: When I entered this space, I did not even have enough means to start reconstruction. For two, three years I did nothing so I had enough time to make a plan, a sketch and then I simply tried to apply some things I had seen in books on architecture without trying to copy-paste them, but I adapted them to my needs. I knew I wanted a good garden, that I wanted to have this continuous communication between the interior and the exterior without the stairs... you do not have to think much, you should just imagine yourself using this interior and the elements shall fit together on their own. You should communicate with people and gradually make decisions. I have solved many issued along the way. For instance, I intended to make this shelf in straw, I wanted it to have texture, to reflect some warm, uneven colour, but this turned out to be complicated for several reasons, so I replaced straw with cardboard etc. I just relaxed and tried to make what I wanted.
ORIS: I find it interesting that, ultimately, when it comes to your house, when someone who is not a professional architect but has a specific affinity, talent, starts working on a project without any prejudices, comes up with far more inventive and freer solutions but not at the expense of functionality or other aspects that we, the architects, insist on.
Vladimir Križanić: I think that implies being burdened with stereotypes. One should identify with the function of what is being created. In effect, we deal with details. Parts of a lamp are just tiny pieces that make up the whole. I can see the details that others that observe the big picture literally do not have time to care for. This is where creativity comes from. Why not bring in a bit of humour in some solutions if the function is not disturbed. There are often too many senseless interventions in space, people use expensive elements that have no purpose. In other words, there is a relationship between a huge number of available materials, a higher offer on the market and bigger possibilities to develop imagination and do whatever we want. For instance, let’s consider an endless colour palette for facade: recently in my street, my neighbour coated a yellow facing brick fence in green, including the house and everything around it, the neighbour nearby painted everything in apricot (including the gutter)... and this used to be a standardized urban area with brick houses and flat roofs. This architectonic pollution should not happen.
ORIS: Speaking of the imperative for the new and prejudices that a profession might have, I remember Jacques Tati’s film My Uncle that we mentioned before the interview as a film that perfectly depicts disproportion between the imperative of trendiness and what we really need.
Vladimir Križanić: Anybody interested in architecture and the interior s should see that film. It shows how addicted we are to trends, marketing and things that surround us. I think that that film has had a great impact on me. My approach would be a good mixture of both extremes. I can imagine a comfortable life in that house, not overwhelmed by all possible gadgets. Recently, I worked with an investor on a 400-square meter house with two big gardens. It is a good feeling to have the space to emphasize these free views by light. Hence, it is hard to define the extent to which one should surrender to all these countless technological innovations and the extent to which they are really necessary. It is nice to live at this time and age when everything is accessible but we can easily fall into a trap of being owned by things. Some details can be solved in simpler ways than what is usually the case with more complicated solutions. For instance, sink siphon that is made of many parts solves the problem of bad smell that can be solved with a far simpler pipe etc... It took me a lot of work and experience to be able to solve lighting units in this way, to free them from useless parts, to notice what is essential, and, thus to create a better design and improve function.
ORIS: There is a term Outsider Art in art, which is used as a common denominator for authors who are not professional artists, but whose individuality and expression have become recognized in art. Do you see yourself as an outsider architect?
Vladimir Križanić: When I was looking for a solution for this space, I was most certainly an outsider architect. While I was doing manual work on the building (demolishing, digging canals...), I thought that what I was doing was a kind of communication, an interaction between the space I was about to create and somebody who would enter it to see our products. I wanted people to get basic information already on the way from the parking lot to the showroom, to feel them. I certainly used the language of architects. Maybe similar situations happen in spaces where I work because people often need a piece of advice and I allow myself to speak about it. In this specific case, some things in the environment are not perfect, the paint on the neighbouring building is falling off, doors are squeaky, but I am perfectly satisfied with all imperfections. That is probably the outsider approach.
ORIS: Have we right now spontaneously arrived to the title of our article I am perfectly satisfied with all imperfections?
Vladimir Križanić: I am totally satisfied with that. When I started the renovation, I had to face a current condition so I did not start from scratch. It could be both, an advantage and a disadvantage. I decided to make use of that real position as a starting point, a specific 3d model with which I would be able to see the image to build on. I apply a similar technique to lighting design. I do not see myself in simulations, 3d presentations since they do not offer the right presentation of light in a space.
ORIS: What you are saying implies that lighting catalogues can generally offer just basic information, in order for you to see a specific form, where and in what direction it would go. But, when it comes to the content and correlation between that light and space, where it should be, that is a job for an expert or, more specifically, for you as a designer.
Vladimir Križanić: Catalogues offer basic information but they can easily be misleading. Every source of light should be identified, its nature, features, colours. A lamp is a dynamic spatial element, it is a living thing for me. It leaves its lamp housing through light and reaches the wall and floor, each surface which it reflects becomes a lamp. The light bulb is the element that breathes life into it, when electric current flows through it, magic begins. I remember when we bought our first 12V halogen lamp. I have never seen the atmosphere it emitted before; it was so impressive and it was probably then that I became taken by light.
ORIS: You need some light for sure.
Vladimir Križanić: Light is a source of life, unless some new theory comes up in the meantime. It is nice to work with it, to create emotion, revive spaces or change habits.