My Monthly Wet Daydream

Joachim Bessing on luminous bedtimes

Text by Joachim Bessing
Illustration by Jonathan Kröll

‘You should never judge a book by its cover’, is a rule that only rings half true. Right at the threshold of the bedroom, if there is one, you should one hundred percent turn back, if there’s no lamp next to the bed. A bedside table or chest is not a must, but without a lamp by the bed, no books can be read. If this is the case, then here lives a person who uses their bed exclusively for sleeping, or reads with a headlight from the outdoors store, or who simply watches tv while falling asleep. All three not so cool. And, on top of this, Nina Simone warned us, ‘Don’t smoke in bed.’

For years I’ve cast different light sources in my bedside experiments. Until I, in a New York museum, of all places, encountered the perfect lamp. It was by Donald Judd. At the time, he as a person was deceased, but as an artist was enjoying more success than he’d ever had in his lifetime. One of his boxes that would have earned him 500 dollars at beginning of his career in the mid-70s, would by this time fetch well over a million.

“The most beautiful bedroom–here was bed meant for more than just sleeping.”

Donald Judd was particularly well-versed with bed situations – yes, I’d go a far to say that no other artist before and after him (at best Tracey Emin), had occupied themselves quite so intensively with beds as he. In each of his houses, and of these he had many (in Marfa, Texas, an entire town belonged to him), he had a bed in each room, as he was of the opinion that as people, we should be able to recline at any given moment. The most beautiful bedroom–here was bed meant for more than just sleeping–in my opinion, was the one he arranged in his residence on Spring Street, New York. Way up there, the space is almost empty. The mattress is sunken into a plank of driftwood. It seems to float over the floorboards like a hovercraft. Next to it stands a lamp by the Italian makers Lumina, the model is called ‘Daphne’. And this lamp is – whether you want to lie close to the floor, or classically elevated – the ideal lamp. I follow Donald Judd, blindly, so to speak. The house is now open as a museum, but trying out the bed or flicking on the lamps is, of course, forbidden. During Judd’s lifetime, a tiny bulb would still have been screwed in inside the dainty lamp head, hanging off that on the most slender – barely thicker than a ball pen refill – cantilevered arm that protrudes from the heavy transformer. Now, it’s an LED that radiates there. The non-luminous parts of the lamp are painted in different colours – Donald Judd prefered black. I love the red. On the also painted transformer, two different brightness levels can be switched on with the toggle switch. Both are light enough for reading, no: in both cases they cast the perfect light onto the page, as if you weren’t holding a book any longer, but rather a modern, reading device in your palm.

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