Shining light: Sarah Turner

Annie Deakin talks to Sarah Turner, eco artist and designer who makes stylish lighting from waste plastic drinks bottles. Turner is best known for her creation at the Olympics, a nine-foot sculpture of a diving man made out of reconditioned Coca Cola bottles and cans.

I am completely obsessed with… making beautiful, functional items from waste materials.

Even as a child… I was making things from waste materials. I can see their value as raw materials and can’t bring myself to thrown something away that could be useful.

I couldn’t run my business without… my fantastic bottle army. They are friends and friends of friends who help me recycle by donating their used bottles. At university I worked in a coffee shop where lots of plastic bottles were thrown away. I started to collect them instead. It was incredible how many were thrown away. I often took home a bin bag full or two each day.

People think that… I melt the bottles down and reform them but really it’s a lot simpler. At first I sandblast the bottles to turn them from being transparent to opaque.  This makes the material feel a lot more high quality and diffuses light well.  I sometimes dye the bottles bold vibrant colours.  Then the intricate, skilled part comes into play. Each bottle has to be hand cut and sculpted into the delicate forms.

People are often amazed that… I don’t measure any of the cuts. It is all done by eye.

My favourite exhibition was… an eco design exhibition called Le Braderie de l’Art in Lille, France. The exhibitors chose items from a massive warehouse full of rubbish to create new artworks in front of the public. It was fantastic; it was 24 hours non-stop so we all worked through the night.

I really admire… Tord Boontjie’s lighting designs.  The only light at home which I didn’t create is a Tord Boontjie Garland light. I remember going to the V&A as a teenager and seeing a beautiful lit up forest of flowers and leaves by Boontjie. I remember thinking that this was what I wanted to do when I was older. 

The object that I am most proud of designing is… my nine metre tall sculpture of a high diver for the Olympic Games.  Coco Cola commissioned it.  It was made of thousands of pieces of waste bottles and cans tied onto invisible wire suspended from the ceiling. One of the reasons I am most proud is as there were so many problems to overcome, such as its size.  It was bigger than my studio so I had to make it in the corridor.

Next projects include… making a Christmas tree from plastic bottles for a council in Scotland. I am also working with an American company to start producing my lights on a larger scale. 

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for the mydecomarketplace, an online shopping experience where you can search hundreds of home furnishings and accessories all in one place.

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