November 26, 2013 | 18 Comments

Merrick Lamp (Daan van den Berg)

From the curators: The term ‘virus’ refers to an infectious agent that effects living organisms, as well as to a type of malware that infects computer files. The versatility of this term inspired designer Daan van den Berg to create this 3-D printed mutated IKEA lamp. Intrigued by Joseph Carey Merrick, whom is otherwise known as the ‘Elephant Man’, van den Berg hacked a 3-D printer so that it was exposed to a computer virus that would produce results similar to the afflictions that Elephantiasis would have on a living organism. The unpredictable nature of the virus ensures that each reproduced lamp is inflicted with unique deformities.

To whom or against what is the violence directed in Daan van den Berg’s project, Merrick? The surreptitious introduction of a virus into CAD files used to create 3D-printed products at IKEA suggests an attack against the corporate body perpetrated against the product (e.g., the Lampen desk light), with presumably unsuspecting customers as “victims.” This action is quite different from most of the IKEA “hacking” undertaken by groups like Platform21 (of which the Merrick Lamp is part) or, which promote alternative uses of the global retailer’s extensive inventory, albeit unauthorized ones, but nevertheless an aftermarket exercise in “prosumer” creative re-fashioning. In other words, no one gets hurt: the producer provides the raw ingredients and the consumer exercises her freedom to reinvent by supplying her own recipe. Instead, van den Berg’s proposal disrupts the system at the point of production, not consumption, even if actual fabrication has been handed over to the customer. According to van den Berg, because of this virus, every product will be different. This is by design. One could imagine an alternative hacking exercise whereby a covert bit of code would render products non-functional, delete necessary parts, or simply generate surface flaws like scratches, instigating massive returns—which come to think of it, is not unlike an actual IKEA experience. No, this is an act of aesthetic terrorism. It seeks to overturn the tyranny of the homogenous product, the legacy of modern industrialization. It is an action to counteract the serial production of products—endless, identical objects. Ironically, up to now, the threat to corporate bodies like IKEA has been the copy or the fake, not the variation. Protection of a likeness is copyright. The Lampen infected with “Elephantiasis virus” is beautifully deformed, a potentially coveted “mistake.”


Joseph Merrick, commonly referred to as the Elephant Man, 1884–85. It is still not known conclusively if Merrick suffered from Neurofibromatosis type 1 or Proteus syndrome.


Is Merrick the grain of sand that forces the oyster to produce a pearl, or is it grit in the machinery of postindustrial production?

  1. November 27, 2013, 8:11 pm

    tucker viemeister

    more design than violence

    The violence in the idea of programs redesigning products is more directed at the original designer than toward the resulting product!
    The destruction of god-like designer who controls all aspects of the form by some greater god-like system that reproduces and mutates then deletes the parents!
    Sounds pretty natural!

  2. November 27, 2013, 9:49 pm

    Allan Chochinov

    First Forms?

    I have to admit that I get very excited when I see this kind of design hacking. I don’t view it as disrespectful for some reason; I see it as yet a another form of mash-up in yet another medium. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that designers create the “first form” only to invite iteration by people who jump on (or ride, or hitchhike, or hijack) their bandwagon. They certainly have authorship and that original authorship needs to be attributed. But I think as more and more objects get scanned and shared, this kind of remaking will become rampant. And I kind of can’t wait to see what people (and machines), (and, well, viruses) come up with.

  3. November 27, 2013, 10:49 pm

    Susan Yelavich

    The pleasure of imperfection

    I’ve always coveted this lamp for its celebration of deformity in a world that utterly rejects it.

  4. November 27, 2013, 11:00 pm

    Ellen Lupton

    Curator, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

    Perhaps the “violence” in this particular design fiction has been wielded against the consumer, who has been forced to waste time and materials producing the infected product with his or her own equipment. That violence would turn into a gift if the mutated product were an improvement on the expected one. In this case, I’m not sure it is.

  5. November 28, 2013, 1:22 am


    Hacker Poet

    Really interesting concept. Love the fact that each lamp reproduced is unique, and that the 3D printer is ‘tainted’ in order to produce such interesting objects. Not entirely sure I totally agree that the spirit of the oeuvre is violent. I’m too impressed by the technique used to generate this lamp to worry about corruption of capitalist perfection I think !

  6. November 28, 2013, 2:09 am

    LIsa Krohn

    Virus as a trade secret?

    What attracts us to variation and imperfection may be what is most human and sophisticated in us.

    At the peak of tulip mania in Holland in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. The most exotic specimens’ particularities were due to a virus called the Mosaic Virus which broke the color into several parts.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it so beautifully in Pied Beauty from 1918:

    “GLORY be to God for dappled things—
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 10
    Praise him.”

  7. November 29, 2013, 5:49 pm

    Michael Arnold Mages

    Designer, Educator

    This project seems related to both
    burled wood, where the source of the deformation is indeed violent — a fungal infection or an injury to the tree that produces a wild, chaotic grain pattern.

    – and ornamental dermal scarification.

    However, in discussing burled wood, we sublimate the violence that occurred. It is not called “scarred wood” or “mutant wood”. And while the act of scarification may be violent, the violence there is also sublimated. Is this simply one approach to ornament?

  8. November 30, 2013, 4:56 am

    Constantin Botm

    Rob Walker’s recent post in DO fits well with this selection. Indeed, professional and public faith in design as benign activity virtually guarantees controversy if an object tries to express anything malevolent.

    In this respect, Merrik brings in several “ill” concepts: viruses, hacking, elephantiasis, deformation in general- all processed and presented in an elegant way. Objects like this are important in shaking off the dogma of design niceness, ultimately helping to expand the limits of the field. I’d say: the sandgrain for a pearl.

  9. December 9, 2013, 1:17 am


    Constructive violence

    The Merrick lamp is provocative not only in its appearance but in the process of its making. It’s like a violent interruption in the postindustrial design and production structure where everything is done with such precise control and supervision. Merrick disrupts that sense of control. It says that everything is not in our hands, neither the producers nor the consumers. That something is left to chance. In that sense, the making of Merrick resembles natural life. That to me is a beautiful way to show how violence is present in all creation.

    The other provocation that Merrick embodies is that it questions the notions of beauty. That it is an infection that’s causing a disfigurement, and that we can embrace this scar on an otherwise beautiful face is telling. This makes design critical and radical, and I agree with Boym’s comment above, that “this would help in shaking off the dogma of design niceness, ultimately helping to expand the limits of the field.”

  10. August 20, 2015, 3:48 pm


  11. June 3, 2016, 5:48 am

    Stacey Smith

    3d printing

    Nice Post.

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  15. February 9, 2017, 1:29 am


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  16. February 9, 2017, 7:53 am


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