What you make of it: How to transform the rims of abandoned bicycles into luminous, sculptural lamps.
NEW YORK — Spring in New York has got me thinking about bicycles. Bright, shiny bikes with bells on them, gently pedaling up and down Hudson River Park in the lazy afternoon sun.
Not the sort of bikes I was preoccupied with this winter, when I began noticing the rusty, abandoned ones littering the streets of nearly every neighborhood in the city.
Inspired by “Found,” a show of six artists working with salvaged materials currently on display at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., I watched as these once-beloved machines slowly decomposed, chained to their final resting places, while scavengers picked them clean of any usable parts. And I wondered what could be done with them.
When I mentioned this to my collaborator, Jen Turner, a New York architect and designer, she, too, became fixated on the bent and broken skeletons that seemed to be everywhere. And an idea began to emerge.
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The bike rims, she realized, bore an uncanny resemblance to the structure supporting Isamu Noguchi’s classic Akari pendant lights, and to that of the well-known George Nelson hanging lamps. How hard could it be to turn them into a similar pendant light?
Call it the Upcycle Bicycle lamp.
We began to scour the streets for spare parts — abandoned bikes with a patina of rust, a missing seat or handlebars, flat tires or mangled rims. The East Village, Soho and Brooklyn emerged as prime hunting grounds. The more transient the population, the more likely that a once-loved member of the family would be tossed to the curb.
Materials collected, we set about devising a simple fixture with an air of 1960s cool. The design was straightforward: We took two de-spoked rims, one slightly larger than the other, and inserted the smaller into the larger, securing them at one junction with a screw, nut and washer.
Once the structure was in place, it was time to install the light. An old lamp socket and cord would work beautifully, though you can find something similar at any lighting store (we got ours at Canal Lighting for $20). With at least 20 feet of cord, the lamp can be adapted to virtually any setup.
We ran the cord through one junction of the structure, leaving the plug on the outside, then we attached the light socket to the end of the cord inside the lamp, using a plastic cable grip to hold the wire and bulb at the right level.
We then wove ribbon through the spoke holes (though you could also use sliced, discarded bike tubes), to provide structural support for the final phase of construction — the application of ripstop nylon, often used as parachute fabric.
The entire project — from collecting the material to building the lamp — could easily be done in a day. (Ours took a little over two weeks, but only because we kept tweaking the design.)
And once complete, it’s a surprisingly beautiful and mildly cheeky reminder of the leafy suburbs where many of us first learned to pedal.
“From Trash to Treasure: A Workshop Exploring Transformation,” with Andrew Wagner and Jen Turner, will be held in conjunction with the “Found” show, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, in Ridgefield, Conn., on March 31. Information: aldrichart.org/events. To see images from “Found,” go to http://aldrichart.org/exhibitions/.