Reflections on pipe lights
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 10:07AM
Eric Liftin

I made my first light of plumbing pipe for my wife, Betsey, 21 years ago. I had just moved into Tribeca, adjacent to Chinatown, and I discovered a small plumbing supply shop off Broome Street. Making objects from pipe was a quick, modular way to make structures — like Lego, except the structures were solid, strong, and maybe even beautiful. While I experimented with several object types (I made my own bed, a couple of tables), I liked the lights best. Running power through plumbing pipe stirred tension between electricity and water -- how shocking that the threading of electrical and plumbing piping are compatible! And bringing the infrastructure, usually concealed in walls, out, where it mimics the forms of the decorative arts carried a kind of industrial-emotional weight.


These days more people than usual seem intrigued by machinery imbued with emotion. There is wide interest in "steampunk," a sensibility based on Victorian-era technology (familiar to us in the films of Jeunet & Caro). Steampunk is nostalgia for a time when technology was innocent, the passionate work of mad scientists and crackpot inventors. We are saying good-bye to the Victorian technology of the incandescent light bulb, but we are having a last fling. Two years ago MESH opened an Etsy store to bring pipe lights to a wider audience. The lights have been unexpectedly popular. We have shipped them to homes, offices, and bars & restaurants.

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