Corona Interview Series #8: Paola Jose, Sombra

The Spanish speakers among you will know that ‘Sombra’ means shadow. An unusual choice of name for a lighting design studio perhaps? I don’t think so. After all, shadow is the intangible ying to light’s yang – a necessary counterbalance within the infinite and ever evolving dance of light and darkness. 

Sombra’s work is very much imbued with this philosophy. Each project is peppered with a subtle interplay of references, technique, balance and aesthetic restraint. If you saw Sombra founder Paola Jose’s lecture on the colour blue at 2019’s Darc Room event in London, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. 

Although our conversation was initially about the effects of the Corona virus upon Sombra’s business practices in Mexico, the topic of discussion evolved into something which will continue to be present long after the virus has receded: the necessity of sombra in a hyper-illuminated world.

Paola, how is Sombra dealing with the current situation?

Our workload has been significantly reduced, but there are also new projects coming. The world is on hold right now, but this is temporary. The world needed to take a breather from the relentless battering we’ve been repeatedly subjecting it to. 

What’s the situation in Mexico?

Unfortunately where I live and work (Mexico City), there is no aid for small businesses like mine. In a country where the government is extremely corrupt and where more than 50% of the population live in poverty, you cannot count on the government for anything.  

Our president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador just few weeks ago said he’s putting trust in good luck charms against corona virus. Therefore, there is an extreme lack of leadership and transparency in the current situation. 

How long do you expect the crisis to last?

Here in Mexico the curve is just starting to grow, the peak will start in mid-April, I would think that the crisis will end in June, at least.

Do you think Corona will change our seemingly entrenched attitudes to travel and consumption habits? 

There is a need to change the capitalist patriarchal system, the health crisis we are living today is a result of the failure of this oppressive system, this is why health institutions have collapsed, this is why our governments could not handle the pandemic, because is all about big corporations profiting. 

Likewise, we need to rethink our working strategies, is it necessary to commute every day to the office? Is it necessary to take a flight and go to NYC for a meeting? Nowadays it has been proven that it is not, we are working from home, having virtual meetings with people from around the globe. 

This is a call for action, to us in the lighting industry, to rethink the way we work, to understand that we as human species are vulnerable, to make an effort and be as respectful with nature and people as possible, to reduce our extreme consumption levels, to create a sense of community, to be more human, to be aware, to wake up.

How, in your opinion, do you think the crisis will affect the way we work in the lighting profession?

I think the lighting industry has to rethink its modus operandi. There is an obsession for over illuminating spaces, over illuminating streets, the belief that light is progress, that light is related to God and purity.  

Modern illumination has created spaces of consumption, of surveillance, separatist and of hierarchical selectivity, and hence our dark skies have been taken away from us due to urbanisation.  

It is absolutely crucial to leave this misconception behind and to reconnect with darkness, to utilise light only when necessary. We have to move away from the kind of visual over-stimulation that is polluting in every way.  

Similarly, we as lighting designers have to commit to create spaces that reconnect with darkness, and create spaces of connection – and not of separation. 

Do you have anything else to add?

I would like to emphasise that we as lighting designers have the absolute responsibility to create consciousness and sensibility with our clients, it is vital to have our morals and values always present and strong.  W

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