How To
Make an Osmose Lamp, With Clemence Seilles

PHOTOS BY CHARLOTTE DUALÉ

Clemence Seilles was only four months into a job at Jerszy Seymour’s Berlin studio when she started to feel it: that restlessness creatives invariably get when they’re unable to fully express themselves. It’s not that the job wasn’t fulfilling — it was, and more — but working fulltime meant Seilles hadn’t yet found a way to devote attention to her own projects. “I had this idea to make a piece that would do the work for me, something that would happen when I wasn’t there,” she recalls. One morning she hung a few felt-tip pens from the ceiling of her apartment, their tips pressed down against a sheet of Chinese rice paper, and left for Seymour’s studio. “When I came back that evening, the work was made.” The pens had bled out in colorful blobs, absorbing into the paper fiber and creating beautiful overlaps.

When we visited her new studio in Berlin two weeks ago, the French designer jokingly referred to the series — which she later titled “Marks on support,” expanding it to encompass the lamps featured in this story — as “a lazy project.” But in fact, it fits perfectly into her fledgling oeuvre. Most of the work she did during her studies at London’s RCA school, and some of what she’s made since graduating last year, puts the passage of time in a starring role. Her thesis, for example, explored the shift in architecture during the last century towards nomadism and impermanence, culminating in her building a temporary dwelling pod in a vacant office building in which she lived and worked for two weeks. “Made In Time” turned the construction of a banal stool into a performance piece, demonstrating the value of craftsmanship by shortening and lengthening the time she devoted to making each one. And for the Osmose lamp, it’s all about spontaneity. “The less preparation you have the better,” Seilles says. “It’s not a decision of the mind making a line or a curve, it’s more like making a stage for a drawing.” You control some of the variables, but gravity and osmosis do the rest. All you can do is know when to stop the process.

Seilles, who also worked for the Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout in between her studies, has lately been focusing on combining off-the-shelf industrial elements with primitive techniques to create new works — like her Matter Lamp, whose rustic wooden tripod supports she hacks out of 2x2s with an axe. And since our visit, she’s begun preparing to turn her studio into a conceptual forest, fashioning the sylvan scene out of everyday office supplies and equipment. Considering Seilles’s talent for putting on a good show, we asked her to demonstrate for Sight Unseen readers how to make one of her Osmose lampshades, from start to finish. The process is documented here.

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Seilles' studio at Berlin's .HBC artists' residency building, with her Matter Lamp at right and a finished Osmose lamp in the center.

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An adjoining room used for fabrication. On the wall is a poster for a group show Seilles took part in during this year's DMY with three other rising French talents: Francois Dumas, Olivier Lellouche, and Victoria Wilmotte.

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Seilles holding up one of her test prints for the Osmose lamps. She estimates she's done at least 20 trials; because she has so little control over the process, not every print will become a finished piece.

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Though the process is based on osmosis — where liquid passes through a semi-permeable membrane, like fabric — Seilles describes its artistic outcome as the result of "the force of inks fighting with each other."

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Before the lamps, there was a series of drawings, made by simultaneously pressing a cluster of felt-tip pens onto Chinese rice paper and waiting for them to bleed. Seilles calls the larger project "Marks on support."

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When making an Osmose drawing, there's always a substrate that soaks up excess ink — in this case a group of wooden boards which have been printed on many times before.

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"Nothing is lost in this work," she says. "Even the tools are becoming beautiful."

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For today, Seilles has selected a "crappy polyester" fabric, laid in two separate layers over a canvas base. "I almost never do one layer at a time," she says. "You get different effects in each as the ink soaks through."

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Seilles constructs her own paint markers to make the Osmose drawings, which are like the kind graffiti artists use. They consist of a cardboard tube taped to a small vessel that holds the ink, with a foam tip at the top.

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The foam pen tips are cut into a rough hexagonal or octagonal shape in a size slightly larger than the cardboard tubes. Seilles's markers were about 1 inch in diameter.

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The shapes don't have to be perfect.

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Seilles selects which marker colors she feels like using for this particular drawing, then refills the ink wells. Each drawing sucks up nearly 7 ounces of ink in total.

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The ink itself isn't made for textiles — "it's very crafty hobby ink, usually used for Asian-style ink drawings," says Seilles. "It's really resistant to fading."

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Once the wells are full, she caps the cardboard tubes with the freshly made pen tips.

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Chicken wire stretched across a crude wooden frame helps the pens stand vertically as ink flows into the fabric.

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Just a few minutes later, the ink begins to absorb and spread. The speed depends mostly on the nature of the fabric.

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"The passive method is just to stick the pens on and let the work happen," says Seilles. But if you want to take matters into your own hands, you can try splashing ink on at will, like the yelllow blob at the top.

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Ten minutes later, the colors have begun to bleed into one another and interact.

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Shortly thereafter, Seilles removes the grid and unveils the first finished layer. "It’s really about time, so the best way to control it is to stop the process," she says.

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The ink continues to spread even after it's hung to dry, though Seilles says the polyester hasn't absorbed as well as her typical textiles do. She suggests readers try cotton.

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"I did some on a frame, and some freely like this one, because the creases in the fabric have some influence on the result," she says.

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Layer two is also finished and hung to dry. Turning it into a lamp is easy — make a lightweight frame from wire or wood, then prop it in front of a cheap light fixture. Or, start over and see what other results you can achieve.