Lunar Lighting


19 April 2016

“It's quite fun to be able to touch it and feel it in your hands,” says Oscar Lhermitte. He is talking about Moon, a precise 3D rendering of the celestial body of the same name that is orbited by a circular LED panel that accurately mimics the path of the Sun.

The idea was conceived four years ago when Lhermitte saw high-resolution images from Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Obtaining access to these images, he then used his own resources to 3D-print the first fully accurate lunar globe. Lhermitte will now hand-cast models from this master globe using polyurethane resin, which sets to resemble a grey concrete. “I'm not a big fan of 3D printing as a finished product," he says. "I think it's great as a design process, but the quality’s not good enough for a finished product.”

The project is being funded through Kickstarter, a platform that Lhermitte knows well through his work with Sidekick Creatives, an initiative he founded to help individuals and collectives realise crowd-funding campaigns. Yet Lhermitte argues that Moon's unusual nature made it a peculiar fit for the platform. “It’s quite an odd one for Kickstarter’s technology category," he explains, "because it's not a consumer product. There aren't many campaigns on Kickstarter that are selling a product as just a limited edition."

Moon is a difficult work to categorise, as it inhabits a number of different worlds. It is a topographically accurate scientific instrument; a design piece that functions somewhere between lamp and desk ornament; and a sculptural piece with an artistic vision. In Lhermitte's words, “It's not just a globe. It's also a light, which creates a really nice atmosphere in the living room. We've designed it as a product, but I personally see it more as an art piece because there's been so much love put into it.”

The project was executed in collaboration with the design agency Kudu. While Lhermitte devised and created the sculpture, Alex Du Preez and Peter Krige of Kudu were responsible for building and coding the computer that controls the LED Sun. There are three light modes available – manual, demo and live – lending the globe a didactic function. Manual allows the user to control which phase of the Moon is shown, while demo recreates a lunar month in 30 seconds. Live uses custom-made software and a gearing system to align the light-panel with the current position of the Sun.

The juxtaposition between the far-reaching history of the globe as an object – the first known example emerged in Turkey during the 2nd century BC – and Lhermitte’s use of innovative technological processes exposes a tension between the old and the new. Advances in technology seem to render the globe an obsolete object, but Lhermitte argues that Moon retains an interest for contemporary audiences.

“It was really interesting to create a truly 21st-century globe using the latest technology. Even the globes that Nasa has released haven’t used the technology we’re using. The last globe to be produced by them three or four years ago just used the high-resolution pictures gathered that were printed as 2D images on a sphere. There are a few globes that have recreated the surface of the Moon in 3D, but only as an artist’s impression. So our model, which is scaled to 1/20 millionth of the real Moon, is the first topographically accurate rendering.”

Moon's production is high-tech, but its lineage is old, while its nature as a limited edition design object also links it back to the luxurious globes of the Enlightenment. Although it depicts a lunar rather than a terrestrial body, Moon captures the same sense of wonder as its 22-centuries-worth of predecessors. The traditional globe may be heading towards obsoletion, but Lhermitte and Kudu's work shows there's life in the old form yet.