Light as a medium

An interview with Timon and Melchior Grau about their artistic approach to light and new perspectives for the company.

When Tobias Grau launched portable lamp SALT&PEPPER he not only introduced a whole new kind of luminaire: mobile, smart and luminous. He also opened the door to a new era, channeling many characteristics of this novel light. His sons, Timon and Melchior Grau, would take over the company management.

The Tobias Grau brand was founded by Tobias and Franziska Grau in 1987. Together, they built an organization that symbolized innovation and holistic, forward-thinking design. Their integrated approach extended to their family: from an early age, their children joined in conversations around design and light: What makes a good light? How do you feel in this light?

Similar to their parents, Timon and Melchior Grau both studied economics, while also painting expressive pictures. They then went on to study art as a creating duo in Berlin and Frankfurt. They describe themselves as a values-based team with a shared vision. For them, lively dialogue is the most important tool in their work. Through exchange, new things are created, critically balanced, illuminated and celebrated.

Together, the brothers are now co-CEOs of Tobias Grau.

How did you become an active part of the company?

Our entry into the company was an organic process. It started with a performance we did in Athens in 2016. In the performance, we both moved freely through the exhibition space. We were constantly in motion, giving the viewer the chance to keep changing their perception of us as a living object.

Timon and Melchior during their performance “Time is only movement” in Athens, 2016. 
Photo by Lukas Panek

With reference to the performance, we designed PARROT. The mobile light is an abstraction of the human figure and thereby versatile transformable, so that its posture is always different. Its body changes, its head turns, as a vital light it moves through the room. We wanted to develop a luminaire that could be used by the bed, in the kitchen or on the balcony. A light that is free and constantly available to fresh perception and relation to you.

Through the development and marketing of PARROT, we got to know different areas of the company. Within a short time, we were involved in a number of processes and understood that the continuation of the Tobias Grau brand needed a holistic approach. We brought more and more ideas and impulses forward and soon realized that we would be interested to take on a regular role and responsibility in the company.

In this dynamic, Tobias and Franziska initially entrusted us with the creative direction. Since the company has always been managed holistically, we then took on managerial direction in 2021.

 Timon and Melchior mit Parrot, Photo by Alessio Bolzoni

After your studies in economics, you studied with some renowned figures in contemporary art. Who and what had a lasting influence on you?

When we reflect on our education, it is important to say that there was no single person, but rather a whole series of personalities, who influenced us. What unites them all is their role as activists. What we learned from Ai Weiwei, Hito Steyerl and Wolfgang Tillmans is to use artistic work to stand up for values and inspire change. Their work has an applied, practical goal through concrete reference to society and life.

The artist Willem de Rooij also made a lasting impression on us in his role as leader and mentor at the Städelschule. There, a network and platform was created in which each individual is empowered and challenged to find their own expression while — or precisely because they are in permanent friction and inspiration with others.

We are interested in this kind of collaboration: the exchange of individual perspectives. On this basis, shared values are cultivated. It is this energy that will drive the work in our organization.

Where do you position yourselves on the spectrum between art and design? What role does the medium of light play here?

With Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, the beginning of the last century saw a profound shift in the perception of art. As a viewer you become a part of the artistic work, empowered and challenged to reflect your perspective on things.
Political art wants to change society and open up new perspectives.

We are interested in the space between people and between their different perspectives. Light is a medium that activates exactly these “in-between” spaces. Light illuminates, but remains abstract. With light, we can help shape perceptions and relations.

Left: Kiss, Light Sculpture at the Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement, 2021 Photo by Johann Clausen / Right: Photo by Paul Hutchinson

We work with light in different contexts, but the source and motivation is the same. We are equally fascinated by an expressive exhibition in a museum, a living sculpture for the home, or the light in your workplace where you spend most of your life.

How do two artists run a business?

We want to use our small but important impact in the world to make a meaningful contribution to society. Our values and attitude towards work are definitely motivated by our practice and experience as artists. So we will work and lead the organization with the widest possible horizons, a sensory approach, and an orientation towards people.

Timon and Melchior at the GRAU Campus, 2022 Photo by  Marcus Glahn

What we started as a team of two, we are now evolving with a larger team. In doing so, we are constantly inspired by the power of collaboration. We want to create structures in which different talents find their expression and where we as a team help each other to stay critical. We firmly believe that by working together with others, we can achieve greater things.

On this basis, we ask ourselves “Can companies be run by the standards of art? Or do they even have to?”

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