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Let There Be Light

Much could be drawn from artistic-looking lamps made from recyclable water bottles, but Berlin-based designer Johanna Keimeyer just wants to shed a little...

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Much could be drawn from artistic-looking lamps made from recyclable water bottles, but Berlin-based designer Johanna Keimeyer just wants to shed a little light.

"I really like different aspects of the lamps. I don't explain to people why this is the way it is or why I use water bottles," she said.

Her recycled lights — colorful compilations of water bottles, jugs of laundry detergents and cosmetic containers — are on display at Pinacoteca Agnelli in Turin, Italy, through July 6. From there, the exhibition is expected to move on to Taiwan and Nepal. Keimeyer, a 25-year-old design student, used to earn her keep as a cabinetmaker and apprenticed at Vitra Design.

It was at a Vitra Design Museum Workshop about recycled goods by Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campagna, held in collaboration with the Pompidou Center in Paris, where she first came up with the idea. But the Gwen Stefani look-alike was driven more by artistry than the bottled water debate.

"My idea was about color. I wanted different colors of light to come out in different directions," she said. To accomplish that, Keimeyer essentially used heat to iron out strips of recyclable containers and then soldered together 200 pieces of various bottles. "For me, this was a nice activity, like painting," she said.

Apparently the end product was equally nice, considering Vitra Design Museum director Alexander von Vegesack was the first to commission one of her pieces for his private collection. That lamp, "Treasure 2," is among the work featured in the "Adventure With Objects" exhibition now on in Turin.

Keimeyer rooted out her trove of recyclables from Slovenia, Spain, France, England and Germany. After seeing Rajec's pale pink water bottles during a jaunt to Great Britain, the designer requested some from the Slovenian company. The company sent her a case with one condition, that she photograph the finished product for them to see. She did them one better, naming the piece for the company.

When asked, the designer admitted she is a bit perplexed about the existence of designer water bottles and how a natural substance could even be glamorized. Never mind the fact that clean water is a luxury for many people in the world. "For some people, it's very important that they only buy very expensive brands even though it's just water," she said. "I would like to create more lamps and chandeliers to show, in the end, it's just water."
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Next year she is off to Tokyo to study and in 2010 will be on to Manhattan. Fusion Publishing plans to release two yet-to-be-named books about her work with accompanying exhibitions next summer. By then, she may have brushed up her business skills. When someone inquired about buying a piece earlier this week, Keimeyer said she told the buyer what she tells others. "I always ask how much people want to give. I'm not so interested in the money."
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