Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Light Bulb Chair

I once made a chair out of light bulbs.


I had this fabulous sculpture class in college. We met in the newly constructed sculpture building and enjoyed the ability to create just about anything on-site. It was beautiful. There was a welding area, a massive wood working room with every power tool imaginable, a gallery, and plenty of open air spaces as well. And it was all brand new and shiny and full of natural light and had really tall airy ceilings.

My "thing" was colliding pieces of art with everyday activities, exploring the boundaries between aesthetics and function. How obnoxious and/or pointless would an art object have to be, before it was too much and too in the way?

For example, one day I was supposed to turn in a project for a critique. The night before my project was due, I took every stool in the entire sculpture complex and piled and wedged them together with the metal bar legs interlocking and sticking out in every direction. All the stools were balanced on just one seat at the base of the structure. It was pretty cool; I wish I had a picture. But the point of the project was such that it was so intrusive that it couldn't last longer than absolutely necessary. I got an A on the project, then it was promptly dismantled so that people could sit down.


This light bulb chair was conceived along similar lines — exploring how an object that is supposed to have a function, such as providing a place to sit, could become so overcome by design that it could no longer be used for its original purpose.

I had to do a bit of legwork for this piece. I had to figure out how to create a structure that could hold the light bulbs and safely carry a current at the same time.


(Sorry for the poor photos; I've only got these images in slide form, so I'm trying to use the macro setting on my camera to get the shots.)


I tracked down a light bulb supplier through the school's facilities maintenance department. I talked with the bulb manufacturer for quite a while, discussing possible methods and safety issues for constructing the chair.

I ended up making a metal support frame and then using a thick gauge wire, stretched between the metal bars, to form the rest of the chair. The wire was bent into a circle for each light bulb to screw into. I stripped the wire on the inside of each loop to form the connection. Then I soldered the base of each light bulb to another wire and connected it all to a standard plug.

And yes,


amazingly, the thing actually worked!!

The thing was also completely useless once the project had been graded. All form and no function — just what I had been aiming for. I couldn't exactly take it home with me on the airplane between semesters. So, I decided to just toss it. I could create a better version if I had to do it again for some reason.

Unfortunately, being the end of the semester, all of the dumpsters were full. The poor chair had nowhere to go. There were fliers plastered all over the dorm building, warning that all items left in the rooms over the break would be tossed. It seemed like a perfect solution — I would just leave the chair in my room, and per the warnings, it would be thrown out once the dumpsters were emptied.

I said my goodbyes to friends and to the chair, and flew home.

I completely forgot about my ill-fated project. However, a few months later, a friend told me that she had my chair.

"What chair?"

"You know, the strange light bulb one."

"My light bulb chair!? The one I threw away? How?"

A random person who had stayed over the break found this odd-looking chair in the otherwise empty dorm room. Afraid to throw it away, the person let it remain until my friend happened to see it and knew it's owner. The chair had never been tossed out at the end of the semester, in spite of the ominous threatening fliers. People tend to reverence art, even if it is very odd, dysfunctional, and flat-out in the way.

I knew I couldn't keep it, and although everyone thought it was cool, no one wanted to actually house it in their cramped quarters. 


I picked the chair up from my friend's room, plugged it in one last time to see if it still worked, and parted with it a second time. On this attempt at throwing it away, I didn't trust the task to anyone else and I put it in the dumpster myself.

(It wasn't the only chair from the sculpture department to be destroyed that year. You should have seen the fate of the chair that someone covered in dryer lint, and then unthinkingly placed in the welding studio — the welding studio with the accompanying flying welding sparks.)


cheri said...

beautiful, but maybe you should've dismantled the light bulbs so it can still be used? :)

M said...

wouldn't have wanted to sit on that chair.

Cristina said...

I have to admit, that's a pretty cool chair!

Sheila said...

I fear that if I showed this post to my son we would have a light bulb chair in our home.

Fire Wife Katie said...

Cheri, I couldn't save the bulbs because the bases were soldered directly to the wire below them. :(

Debbi said...

Wow that is amazing! You have a great imagination. I had to design a lamp once and just sat there and stared absolutely stumped on what to design. That was a great story and an awesome piece of art. If you still had it bet you could sell it.

I have an award for you over on my page!

mnlop said...

Wish you had called me, I would have kept it forever!!

deyoder said...

So stinkin' cool and quite ingenious!

Allyson & Jere said...

That is pretty darn impressive. i don't have a brain that thinks that way, but I'm truly in awe of your brain and your creation.

i'm also super impressed that you were able to post pictures of slide that you put in the window to see. No really, so clever.

cheri said...

aww, that's too bad. it would have been cool if you could. think of the homes it can light up :)

oh, i left you an award :)

kris said...

Oh my gosh, how happy am I that you steered me to this post today?

I would never in a million years have guessed you were a lightbulb-chair kind of woman. That is just so awesome and creative and completely outside the box. I love that!

As I love the glowy deep yellow of the photos of the lit bulb chair.

You are all talented, lady!

I am sad about the chair, though.

Into the dumpster . . . sigh.

Love this post!

Melissa D said...

That's amazing! I can't believe you actually constructed it so it would light up.

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