Life is a Circus

Artists Everywhere Are Creating Beauty by Upcycling Waste

From discarded fencing to used light bulbs, it’s all material for stunning art installations.

Upcycled fashion is making its mark everywhere, but it’s just part of an ongoing international trend to reconsider our relationship with waste – beautifully.

Artists and creators everywhere are leading us to question how much we throw away in our increasingly disposable society, and what that means for our relationship with the world around us. Using materials such as paper, wooden crates, yogurt bottles, discarded toys, and much more, they have created fascinating installations all over the world.

In Sri Lanka, artist Lalith Senanayake created an elephant sculpture from plastic waste collected from local beaches. Indonesian artist Mulyana uses discarded yarn and textiles to make installations depicting marine environments. In Kathmandu, volunteers used 100,000 colorful plastic bags to make a 65-foot long, 16-foot-tall sculpture of the Dead Sea.

At Longwood Gardens, a botanical garden in Pennsylvania, lighting artist Bruno Munro used 65,000 recycled CDs to create shimmering floating water lilies. German-based artist Babis Panagiotidis created “Trojaner,” a giant rocking horse made of discarded computer keys and cables.

Artist Michael Kalish has spent years perfecting the technique of twisting, cutting and riveting used license plates to make pop-art-style portraits of icons such as Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles. His magnum opus is “reALIze,” an image of Muhammed Ali made from 1,300 punching bags, five miles of steel cable, and 2500 pounds of aluminum pipe.

“Kolonihavehus” is an outdoor sculpture by American artist Tom Fruin made from a thousand pieces of reclaimed plexiglass. At the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena created an installation from 100 tons of waste generated by the the previous year’s exhibition.

The list goes on, but in every case the message is the same. Our consumer culture creates tremendous amounts of trash. At a very basic level, these installations call us to stop and reconsider our relationship with the material world.

And by turning waste into art, they challenge us to look for beauty beyond the ephemeral.

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