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Artists Recycling their way to Large-Scale Installations

Artists Recycling their way to Large-Scale Installations


Artists Recycling their way to Large-Scale Installations

Image coutesy of Alejandro Aravena

One man’s trash truly is another man’s treasure, especially when it comes to these following creatives. Around the world, artists, designers, and architects are putting recycling at the forefront of their practice and using their works to highlight the impact that our waste has had on the environment.

Climate change has held the attention of millions of individuals for years, with many participating in movements around the world to speak up about their collective grief over the loss of biodiversity, additionally calling for government action to implement change. Eco-artists have sprung from this movement, bringing new meaning to their works by engaging with the “reuse, reduce, and recycle” slogan through their craft. 

As a result, many eco-friendly artistic initiatives have sprung into action. This includes Art of Recycle in Pennsylvania, a non-profit community art center that aims to inspire artists in developing skills by using discarded, unwanted and excess items; they seek to create generations of artists who are more environmentally conscious. On a larger scale, festivals such as the Seattle Recycled Arts Festival have also been initiated with positive response year after year. Since 2015, they have pushed their motto of “Reduce, Reuse, Reclaim, Repurpose, and Recycle”, showing communities how they can express their creativity with extensive range by using recycled materials. 

These following creatives have used recycled materials not only to bring to light the impact of waste but also to provide context to their works. Through the act of upcycling, they turn what seems to many as trash into artistic sights to behold. Take a look at these creatives and their works here: 


Hiroshi Fuji 

Jurassic Plastic by Hiroshi Fuji. Image courtesy of the Japan Foundation, Bangkok. 

Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji has been cited as a “serial recycling artist”, and has made many large-scale installations using thousands of recycled materials. His work, ‘Jurassic Plastic’, features a dazzling installation of dinosaurs and animals made from unwanted plastic toys that he has personally collected from countries around Asia. Fuji transforms these unwanted toys into visually with the concept of plastic true to his art. He makes dinosaurs due to how crude oil - the raw material of plastic - is essentially produced from fossil fuels, shedding further light on how we should be aware of our consumption and waste. 

Fuji’s long-term project, Kaekko, was initiated some 20 years ago as an exchange system for old toys. Since 2000 there have been over 5,000 Kaekko Bazaars. Operating on a barter system, these bazaars provide Fuji with the materials he needs to create his captivating installations. 


Cod Steaks

The Bristol Whales by Cod Steaks. Image courtesy of Contemporist. 

A design company based in Bristol, United Kingdom, Cod Steaks has been creating large-scale public art that brings awareness to the amount of waste in our environment. ‘The Bristol Whales’ features two life-size whales swimming through an ‘ocean’ and was created using 70,000 plastic bottles. The bottles were upcycled from the Bath half marathon and Bristol 10k run, as well as locally harvested willow. Keeping the act of recycling at heart, Cod Steaks pledged that every plastic bottle they used would be recycled after the installation’s exhibition ended. 

Other works by Cod Steaks include ‘Big Foot’, where a steel sculpture of a human stands on a squashed planet Earth. 'Big Foot’ was on show outside the Natural History Museum of London in 2017 and brought a strong message on the impact that we are having on the world. 


El Anatsui

El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale at Haus der Kunst, Munich. Image courtesy of the New York Times. 

African artist El Anatsui creates labor-intensive works with recycled African materials. He is most recognized for his series of wall-mounted installations and assemblages made from seals. The inspiration for these works came in 1999 when Anatsui found a bag of metal seals from African liquor bottles. In this series, he crushes the material in circles or cuts them into strips, later sewing them together with copper wire. 

Anatsui’s main themes surround consumption, transformation, and the environment. He views these bottle caps as symbols relating to the history of Africa when the earliest group of Europeans arrived on their land to trade. Apart from bottle caps, Anatsui also uses found materials such as old milk tins, railway sleepers, driftwood, iron nails, and printing plates, further highlighting how people from poorer nations recycle out of necessity than choice. 


Chiharu Shiota

Over the Continents by Chiharu Shiota. Image courtesy of the artist. 

Chiharu Shiota is well renowned for her deeply personal large-scale installations that have been showcased in notable institutions around the world, as well as at the Venice Biennale. She is an artist who frequently uses found objects in her artistic narratives. In 2015, Shiota showcased ‘Over the Continents’ at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery pavilion as part of their ‘Perspectives’ contemporary art series. 

‘Over the Continents’ featured an accumulation of nearly 400 individual shoes that Shiota personally collected. Each shoe came with a note from the donor describing the people they have lost along with past moments, creating an emotionally charged installation. Four miles of yarn wrapped around the shoes and was attached to a single point in the pavilion, allowing viewers to visualize how all human are connected to each other around the world. 


Alejandro Aravena

Alejandro Aravena’s core exhibition at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale. Image courtesy of inexhibit. 

Anyone who attended the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016 would not have missed Alejandro Aravena’s installation at the event’s opening halls. This incredible hanging installation made use of seven miles of scrap metal along with 10,000-square-metres of plasterboard leftover from the previous edition of the Venice Art Biennale. Altogether, 100 tonnes of waste material was used. Lengths of crumpled metal were suspended vertically in a 300-meter long building, and its walls were covered with stale of varying plasterboard that also included display shelves.  

Aravena formed Elemental in 2001, an architecture studio that focuses on projects of social impacts. In 2017, Elemental was selected to design the Art Mill Museum on Doha’s historic waterfront, and their design was praised for their environmental strategy as well as their understanding of the local climate. 


Von Wong

Parting of the Sea by Von Wong. Image courtesy of Saigoneer. 

Artist Von Wong and non-profit organization Zero Waste Saigon worked together to create a large scale installation that highlights the consumption of single-use plastics. Entitled ‘Parting of the Sea’, this installation was made for 168,000 plastic straws and recovered plastic packaging collected from the streets of Vietnam with the help of volunteers. 

Von Won further explains his motivations for this massive installation in his blog saying, “I wanted to encourage people to turn down their next straw by creating a “strawpocalypse”, something so large that if anybody walked by, they couldn’t help but ignore. But first, I was going to need straws. A lot of them. At just $10 for 100,000  straws, it would have been super convenient to buy a ton of them and figure something out – but that was clearly not an option.” He then worked with Zero Waste Saigon and spent over 6 months collecting straws, bringing this 10-foot tall project to life. 


Orly Genger 

Red, Yellow and Blue by Orly Genger. Image courtesy of Madison Square Park 

New York-based artist Orly Genger is a contemporary American sculptor who is famous for her hand-knitted works. Genger’s works can be found in impressive collections such as the MoMA, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and SFMoMA among many others. In 2013 she was commissioned for her largest installation to date, ‘Red, Yellow and Blue’, loudly showcased in Madison Square Park in New York City. 

‘Red, Yellow and Blue’ was painstakingly made out of hand-knotted nautical rope covered in paint and transformed the park’s lawns into brightly colored chambers. This work consisted of 1.4 million feet of rope, with the total length equating to almost 20 times the length of Manhattan itself. Ropes used were collected from the East Coast and brought elements of the coastline to New York’s urban setting. 


Izaskun Chinchilla Architects 

City of Dream pavilion by Izaskun Chinchilla Architects

"If we imagine a future New York City where anything is possible, what would it look like? In our wildest and most optimistic dreams, what is the future of the city?’"Spanish architecture firm Izaskun Chinchilla Architects answered this question with, “A future which is colourful, hopeful, and optimistic, with structures based on nature, a future made from reused umbrellas and bike wheels and open to everyone!” 

Together with the help of a successful crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter, they built their ‘City of Dreams’ pavilion on Governor’s Island in New York City with just that, creating a sheltered gathering space out of redundant materials such as bike wheels, car rims, tripods, and umbrellas, with the final structure resembling a bouquet of flowers. 



Spires by Dispersion. Image courtesy of the designers. 

Dispersion, a turnkey solutions studio based in Boulder, Colorado, is made up of Jamie Wirkler and Bill Goodrich. Together, they design and build illuminations with artists, architecture firms and landscape designers, with innovative use of LED technology. In their work entitled ‘Spires’, they painstaking sourced for recycled pieces of steel from defunct projects to create three vertical illuminated cylinders that respond to human interaction. 

They embedded RGB LED lights into steel structures that had holes to let light through, and invited participants to touch or tap the metal to create a “heartbeat effect” with the lighting. 


Susan Stockwell 

World by Susan Stockwell. Image courtesy of We Create Together. 

Susan Stockwell is an internationally acclaimed British artist whose works have graced the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and the Venice Biennale. Her work entitled ’World’ is a permanent public commission that features a gigantic world map made from recycled computer components and uses motherboards, electrical wiring, fans, and a myriad of other components donated by Secure IT Recycling.

Recently, Stockwell created a work entitled ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ as part of a residency at Aspex. Made with hundreds of meters of cloth, she seeks to highlight the global impact of mass production and consumerism that the fashion industry has on people and the environment. 


Inspired to explore more art? Click here to see what The Artling has in store! 

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