Gherkin Chandelier

Poking pickle shaped holes in the tissue of conventional ornamental lighting - London 2014

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The Gherkin Chandelier

A dangerous and ambitious project poking pickled shaped holes in the tissue of conventional ornamental lighting. By passing mains current through a gherkin it will fizz, spark and eventually illuminate and glow with a ghostly green light, all the time heating the pickle in a frenzy agitated by powerful electrical forces. It’s simple to effect on a single gherkin. We spent a full week working with an electrical engineer, to scale up this simple experiment to the scale of a chandelier. We established that a small gherkin draws 300W while a large gherkin draws a huge 500W. The final chandelier containing over 50 gherkins wired in parallel, draws enough power to light an entire street.


Did you ever make a gherkin lightbulb in school?
Sadly not though we did dissect toads, experiment with chromatography and burn magnesium ribbon (also used in fireworks). I guess this has been an inspiration for creating spectacles like the Multisensory Fireworks we created with Vodafone for London’s NYE this year.

If you take a simple idea and push it in an extreme direction, you can create extraordinary and provocative work. Like the notion of creating fireworks you can smell and taste as they explode and scaling this up to a show for a quarter of a million people. This is the same principle we used for the gherkin chandelier.

What was the inspiration behind the gherkin chandelier?
Our idea for conquering gherkins had been percolating in our studio’s consciousness for a while. A pickle conducts electricity due to the vinegar, containing acetic acid, and sodium chloride.

We knew you could use any pickled foods, even hotdogs for improvised food-based light features. But gherkins are best through their high water content and translucence, the ultimate food based bulbs!

The prince of pickles works as a high resistance material, like the filament in a bulb with a ghostly yellow light. The electricity excites the sodium ions in the salt. Falling back to ground state they emit light at a frequency called Sodium D-line. The same light you see in the sodium lamps in parking lots.

This light frequency has allowed space scientists to identify Sodium in Mercury’s atmosphere.

Armed with this knowledge we knew the time had come to create something wonderous with pickles. When Dave Lane from Gourmand called us up to collaborate on a short film for Nowness the stage was set for a furious lighting centerpiece. We built the chandelier and Dave directed the magnificent film about it.

What were the first few models like -- smaller versions etc?
Like something out of a heath robinson illustration – but more dangerous! Thinking about the development of the Gherkin Chandelier still gives me goosebumps. Risking death to explore an everyday sultan of savour!

How long did it take to create the final version?
About a week of DIY carpentry and furious wiring by Charlott our studio’s technical designer. She’s good with a drill and soldering iron.

Did you realise quite quickly it could be dangerous – how many fires did it start in the practice runs?!
Well after testing the first prototype we hired a qualified electrician to help us work out how to scale-up from a single pickle bulb to a full chandelier. He established that a small gherkin draws 300W while a large gherkin draws 500W and helped us with the electrical schematics but did it entirely off record. He was worried that the project was so dangerous that his insurers would balk if they got wind of it.

Why did you decide to make the link with the electric chair?
It’s a savage comparison and one which gives everyone a feel for the sheer power we are running through the gherkin chandelier.

What do you want people to take away from the experiment?
We're keen on giving people a 'naked lunch' and looking again at what's on the end of their fork. Hopefully projects like this will help folk reflect on the huge biological, social, cultural, architectural, physiological and experiential implication of even the most simple dishes.

There’s magnificence in even the mundane pickle.  All foods can be enchanted if you address them creatively. There’s joy and wonder in the most humble foods.

How do you plan on following it up?
I guess, just to advise that if making a gherkin chandelier yourself take all precautions! Be careful not to hang on too long or you will totally cremate the pickles. Also be advised that you might fuse your mains and there’s a danger of death. But the results will be worth it. Nothing beats the taste sensation when gherkins collide with electricity.

Film by Dave Lane and Jeremy Valender for Nowness.