With particular reference to myself

As a designer, Ralph Ball made modern classics like the Nomos table and the Aero lamp. As a sculptor, he makes mischief with them. Charles Darwent met him

When the owners of a London gallery offered to host a show of Ralph Ball's work last year, they found they were faced with a novel curatorial problem. The gallery was owned by Concord, a firm of commercial lighting designers, who use exhibitions to show off their products. The works Ball chose to show in the space were lighting systems of his own. "They seemed to be worried by the idea of having to spotlight spotlights," muses Ball, a tutor at the RCA. "An interesting conceptual question, don't you think?"

You can see how misunderstandings might arise. Ball's work, like his career, is hard to pin down. Ball is an industrial designer whose output includes the Nomos table (a cantilevered affair of steel and glass, designed for Norman Foster in the early 1980s and still de rigeur in certain sorts of Clerkenwell dining room) and the low-voltage Aero light of 1979 (those ubiquitous vertical wire tracks with spotlights suspended between them). His commercial designs teeter on the edge of sculpture. And his sculptures, contrariwise, are easily mistakable for commercial designs. "I quite like not fitting into a category," beams Ball, a man much given to conundrums, word games and the novels of Jorge Luis Borges. Spotlit spotlights would be right up his street.

The work in Ball's new show at London's Plateaux Gallery certainly suggests that spotlights gave him food for thought. "My students all kept going on about postmodernist issues like 'context'," says Ball, "and it seemed to me that a lot of it was bogus. So I decided to use this new work to carve out a visual language in which postmodernism took a look at modernism. That's why I called the new show Introspective Furniture."

Roughly translated, this means that Ball has decided to play games with various sacred cows of modernist design. Notably with that truncated- cone object we have come to think of as the Platonic lampshade.

In Golden Delicious, for example, he turns this lampshade upside down and fills it with light bulbs. "The idea behind the iconic lampshade is that it should contain light," says Ball. "If you invert it, though, it becomes literally a container, a bowl of light."

Photographs in the exhibition's accompanying literature come with po- faced exegeses of just what it is they represent. Next to A Spot Lighter than a Lighter Shade (a special prize for the person who can spot all the puns in that one), Ball has inscribed the modernist dicta: "Minimality, Transparency, Form follows function." Taking these axioms to their by no means logical conclusion, the Spot Lighter Than etc etc is a skeleton lampshade with no actual lampshade on it.

The more attentive among you may have spotted a problem in all this auto- criticising, though: namely, that Ball's own works have themselves become modernist icons. Ball, needless to say, has that one covered. The Task Lamp is his Aero lamp revisited, a work described by Ball as "a bit of postmodernist me". The Task Lamp solidifies the Aero's familiar tension wires into the uprights and rungs of a ladder, from which the iconic modern lampshade dangles as a window-cleaner's bucket. "Those kind of lights are called wall-washers, after all," chortles Ball. "Oh, and being in the modernist context, it also functions properly. You can hang the bucket from any of the rungs and it will still work." And as with the Aero lamp, so with the Nomos table. "Its look, the lunar landing feet and so on, has been incredibly influential," reasons Ball. "Everybody else has copied it, so I thought it was about time I did too."

Let it never be said that Ralph Ball can not take a joke. The T.4.4 - Ball's punning name for his re-invented Nomos - is so brazenly self-referential as to be self-mocking. (What Nomos-owners will make of this joke at the expense of their expensively purchased dining-tables is anybody's guess.) His award-winning invention turned both literally and metaphorically on its head, the Nomos's suction-pad feet become four china saucers on the ends of four waving antennae; the inverted lip-edged table-top becomes a tea tray on which the whole T.4.4 confection is served. Something of a bind come washing-up time? "Not at all," frowns Ralph Ball. "The saucers unscrew. It's modernist. Of course it functions."

'Introspective Furniture': Plateaux Gallery, SE21 (0171 357 6880), Thurs to 15 November.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada