Turning rubbish into works of art is Mick Stephenson’s passion. He talks to Gavin Engelbrecht

MICK STEPHENSON’S eyes sparkle when he starts talking about his favourite subject – rubbish and ways of transforming it into fantastical works of light art.

Discarded plastic bottles, carrier bags, razors, drinking straws and even old organ pipes, you name it, and the light sculptor has a use for it.

A local builder by day, he whiles away the hours at night making things of beauty from everyday objects.

Mr Stephenson’s ingenuity won him a commission to create an installation for Durham City’s Lumiere 2011. Called Fusion, and comprising of recycled plastic milk bottles and bags lit by colourful LEDs, it proved a crowd-puller in Walkergate.

His success alongside international stars led to him being invited back by festival producers Artichoke for a project that really enthrals him.

Holding up a plastic bottle, fitted into a hole in a piece of corrugated sheet, he says: “This is it: A Litre of Light. It encompasses an awful lot and yet the concept is a simple – filling a plastic bottle with water and chlorine shoving it through a hole in your roof to light your space.

“It has transformed lives of thousands of people who live in shantytowns who do not have access to electricity or cannot afford it.”

As part of Lumiere 2013 – from next Thursday to Sunday, November 17, Artichoke has asked Mr Stephenson, who lives in Bearpark, near Durham, to replicate the kind of windowless dwelling found in informal shantytown settlements around many parts of the developing world.

As the city is turned into a wonderland of lights, his installation outside the Gala Theatre, in Millennium Place, will serve as a sober reminder to people just what a luxury turning on a light can be for 1.3 billion people in the world.

Mr Stephenson says: “If you build a structure of corrugated iron and somebody attaches themselves to your back and to your sides and you need to keep your space closed, bringing daylight light in is not an option.

“Millions do not have access to electricity or are unable to afford it.

“Inserted in the roof, the bottle refracts sunlight providing an inexpensive and environmentally- friendly equivalent of a 55-watt bulb, which is powerful enough to light a room.

“The chlorine keeps mould from developing, so the solution can last up to five years.”

LITRE of Light, developed in the Philippines by the My Shelter Foundation, has brought light to 28,000 homes and 70,000 people in Metro Manila alone.

Its use has spread to India, Indonesia and as far away as Switzerland. My Shelter Foundation aims to brighten a million homes by 2015.

Mr Stephenson says: “This project has a nice feel to it. In all the chaos in the world, this is something that is really in our hands.

“To be able to go out pick up a bottle off the street and bring light to your space is wonderful example of self-help.

“What we have tried to come up with this installation is something interesting, not only involving mass participation, but also where people can see for themselves what the reality is like for millions of people in the world.”

As part of Lumiere 2013, a series of workshop will be held with children in 21 schools, teaching them how to make a light bulb out of a recycled plastic bottle.

Children will enter small replica shanty house in their classroom measure light levels and experience what it is like living in a dark space, before seeing the effect of using a bottle.

The initiative, instigated by Durham County Council’s area Action Partnerships and Education Development Service, is being delivered by Outdoor and Sustainability Education Specialists, based at Esh Winning Primary School, near Durham City.

An “adult box” is also been designed to give members of the public the chance to join in with practical workshops in Clayport library during the festival, in exchange for a small donation to the charity.

THE installation in Millennium Place will comprise three parts. The first is a room with a single bottle in the roof, recreating a shanty town living space, while the second will contain bottles made by school children and created at workshops held during the festival.

Mr Stephenson says: “We will be the changing bottles daily, as we are expecting about 600 from schools. The idea is the kids are going to personalise these bottles – I always trust them to come up with something really interesting.

Children see things in a lovely way.”

Visitors will be able to learn more about the charity in a third section.

Mr Stephenson says: “This is an example of how people are making huge changes in their lives with a simple idea.

“In a development on this idea, people are also taking plastic bottles, filling them with earth and cement and using them as bricks – people are actually putting up buildings with them.

“It is handing power back to the people. We are the masters of our own destiny.”

He adds: “Art is not just something to please the mind and something to be visually stunning to look at. It also raises awareness of a situation which is probably for a lot of the world today.

“We are facing an energy crisis in this country too, where people are paying higher and higher energy bills. Who knows, one day we might be cutting holes in our roofs too.”