It’s a rare undergraduate project that becomes an in-demand work of art, but that’s exactly how it happened for Carolina Fontoura Alzaga. As an undergraduate studying art, she also happened to be immersed in bike culture. “Everyone I knew used bikes as their sole transportation, and I lived in a warehouse with 12 other people, who constantly had people over. There would be bikes stacked on bikes stacked on bikes,” she recalls, not to mention that “I had friends who ran a free community bike shop.” It would stand to reason with so many bikes and bike people, she would consequently be surrounded by bike parts too.
“It made sense to use material around me and begin playing,” says Fontoura Alzaga, so she started using discarded bike chains. “I made several little sculptures and the idea led a mobile. Except, I didn’t know the word mobile and thought I wanted to make a bike chandelier.” Ultimately, she used a chandelier for her BFA thesis in 2007. While she thought it would be a one-off piece, it proved to be the beginning of something great.
A move to Mexico City followed, and so did an invitation to exhibit her chandelier. Its reception led to her own solo show at the behest of a gallerist acquaintance who encouraged her to develop the series. “It wasn’t something I was compelled to do on my own,” says. A company followed, dubbed Facaro, and commissions and press came rolling in.
Now based in Los Angeles, Fontoura Alzaga continues her work, sourcing disused chains from bikes shops all over the area to create chandeliers for the line known as Connect. Her forms run the gamut from simple lamps to elaborate fixtures that capture a bit of Victorian flair moderated through a contemporary lens.
“Right off the bat first one was pretty ambitious,” she says. “It was five feet tall and two feet wide. The form has evolved and the inner workings. The initial attempt was absolutely improvised. I’ve improved minute details. Now I use UL approved lamp parts and working with a structural engineer and a structural welder for larger pieces. “I’ve absolutely honed my craft—and I really know bike chains in and out.”