As an artist in a developed consumerist country I often take for granted the process leading up to my “readymade” paint tubes, resins, and inks. The idea of walking into an art supplies store and buying pre-made brushes, purified pigments, and pre-stretched canvas is one only relevant to artists from the 20th century forward. As the market for pre-made materials grew, the quality of these products diminished. Aside from the multiplied remains of retired materials, the plastic and polymer waste created by the industrial production of these materials directly impacts air and water quality. In a field charged with social, political, and environmental consciousness we need to be aware of where our materials come from, how they are disposed of, and the potential for alternatives.
One direct solution to this ethical issue lies in the direct sourcing of waste and trash as the art material. The following artists and projects exemplify the potentials of upcycling in environmental awareness and function.
The work Of Brazilian Vik Muniz (from his Wasteland series) uses the setting and materials of Brazilian junk yards to reconstruct masterworks at a macro scale. Muniz’s zero waste projects transform waste objects into internationally beloved imagery and human mythology. Although the waste remains in the junk yard after the work is complete and documented, is reattaches value and beauty to objects humans once used. Seen as photographs in high class art venues around the world, the work reminds your average museum viewer and patron of the waste we create and the potentials of recycling. Beyond those universal themes, its a constant reminder of the divides between impoverished and developed nations who often house first world trash or lack recycling.
Atlanta and Hippomenes after Guido Reni, Vik Muniz
There are a number of artists who follow Muniz’s material lead, sourcing literal garbage as the building blocks for their sculptures, environments, and products. Check out more trash art here. I’m particularly a fan of HA Schult’s Trash People…makes you think…
…about all kinds of waste we make.
Somewhere in between art and housing lies the The Earthship Community outside of Taos, NM. The Earth Ships are houses structurally made from stacks of bottles, tires, or other waste and insulated with adobe mud. The folks living out here have created a sustainable community, nearly void of property tax due to their sharing of wells for water, solar energy collection, and self construction. Most of them look like trailer park Jetsons spaceships (I drove by once and they really don’t look as glamorous as the blog makes them out to be), but prove the ability for sustainable desert residence. I’d never thought of waste as a potential construction material.
I’m interested in further exploring the potentials of upcycling in art and the production of environmentally friendly materials.