The largest dry steppe (grasslands without trees, rivers, or lakes) on the planet spans nearly 500,000 square miles and stretches from Ukraine to China. In the middle of this vastness is Kazakhstan, where designer Nissa Kinzhalina is from. “It’s a fascinating country, unlike anything else,” she says. The steppe’s vastness inspired her early work as she tried to learn how to draw wide open spaces.
Today Nissa works near the mountainous area of the country’s former historic capital, Almaty—a city of 2 million people and the cultural hub of Kazakhstan. “The quality of services, products, and design is relatively high here, but since Kazakhstan is a landlocked country, one of the main disadvantages is its expensive flight tickets.” In order to make her work accessible to the rest of the world, Nissa was recently in the process of relocating her production facility to Kyiv, Ukraine, where she once lived. Then everything changed.
“What is happening now affects me deeply,” she says when we discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She’s now being forced to consider alternatives to how her work—inventive takes on lamps, tables, chairs and furniture—will get made. “I am entirely reconsidering my approach to work,” she admits. “These days it makes more sense to work in collaboration with large manufacturing companies and to design for them.”
Like many of us, Nissa’s average workday is spent in front of her computer. “Sometimes I work for two hours and am very productive; other times I sit in front of my computer all day with no output at all. I try not to measure my work in hours anymore.” Instead Nissa likes to think in terms of projects.
She’s specifically interested in expanding “The Emerging Lamp” project, a large floor lamp constructed from a thick sheet of elm that, when swung open, exposes an LED light. Swing it closed and the lamp turns itself off. “‘The Emerging Lamp’ demonstrates an unusual approach to floor lamps. I am intrigued in working with switch mechanisms, to think about how the light appears and welcomes a person, how it reacts and what it does. To some extent I want to make the light alive and real with my thoughts and experiences.”