Generally speaking, one man’s trash is another man’s… well, trash (that’s why they’re called “landfills” and not “land-empties”). But every now and then there’s a truly gifted artist who takes pedestrian, throw-away – even icky –items and transforms them into a fascinating conversation piece that can hold its own among the great art works of the world. Proving that there’s more than one way to recycle, here are ten creative works cut, crafted and carved from trash.
The name of the project may be alarming, but relax and leave your hazmat suit at home; the House of Contamination (which has been described as more a village due to the large area involved) is not actually stuffed full of viruses looking to hitchhike. Instead, it is a large structure made from old pieces of garbage (such as kitchen appliances and unwanted clothes). Like any house, this one has furniture. There are bookshelves made from discarded refrigerators and chairs made from stacks of stinky clothes, etc. The project is itself a work of art, demonstrating how waste can be repurposed into useful things, such as building materials. It also serves the secondary purpose of acting as a cultural centre that houses other art forms, including dance, theatre and music.
The extensive metal sculpture called Forevertron sits in a Wisconsin yard with all the appearance of a very old scrap pile – at least from a distance. Up close, the sculpture comes alive, revealing itself to be intricate and extensive. The nature and intent behind Forevertron is primarily whimsical; it advances the fictional narrative of the steampunk, Victorian genius Dr. Evermor, who built an anti-gravity machine capable of sending him straight to God’s doorstep (in an ascendant, non-violent, sort of way). That machine, along with a spaceship, a telescope, a listening device and (of course) a teahouse, make up Forevertron, though there are also assorted sculptures and in the surrounding park. If it has a genuine antique feel, it’s because the pieces, which are the artwork of Tom Every, are comprised of old scrap that date back in part to that other famous inventor, Thomas Edison.
This secret garden was built by the artist Nek Chand, who went through India, gathering together pieces of pottery, cement and other junk left in the wake of numerous demolitions. Slowly, he built up the garden into his own interpretation of utopia, where rock dancers and little concrete creatures frolic unperturbed. The garden stayed secret for a long time (eighteen years!) but it didn’t stay small – Chand’s picture of perfection grew to as large as 12 acres, featuring even several waterfalls. Currently, the scenic area is protected and maintained by a special Rock Garden Society and is a somewhat popular tourist attraction. Still, all that success hasn’t gone to Chand’s head; every addition to his rock garden is still made up of other people’s trash.
The sailors of this boat set sail with a mission in mind: to alert the world about the problem of plastic waste winding up in the ocean (and also about the broader problems caused by creating so much waste, period). To do this, they boarded the earth-friendly Plastiki, designed by David E. Rothschild. In order to illustrate how plastic could be put to better uses, the Plastiki’s cabin and surrounding areas are comprised of a recycled plastic called srPET and glued together with a special substance made from cashews and sugar; the boat floats, in large part, due to sets of plastic bottles secured on both hulls. The crew of the Plastiki makes every effort to show that waste in general is unnecessary, even recycling their pee into water is used in a food-growing hydroponic system.
One million bottles of beer on the wall, one million bottles of beer… no, really. More than a million bottles of beer were transformed by Buddhist monks in the surrounding area of Bangkok into a beautiful temple site (called the Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew Temple) where the sun hits the walls and reflects off every piece of glass. The project was intended to demonstrate two important points: first, that pollution in the area was getting out of hand and secondly, that man has the potential to create and accomplish amazing things, even turning trash into beauty. Driving home that point is the fact that every corner, wall, mural and public-accessible bathroom was made from beer bottle debris. There is no word on whether or not the inhabitants of this primarily glass house have taken a vow against throwing stones.
While some creative works are more artistic (read: for fun) in nature, the BituBlock aims strictly for usefulness. If creator Dr. John Forth gets his way, it will literally become the new building block of society, as it is a proposed replacement for the oft-employed cement block. Imagine if you could take that large bag of trash you were supposed to throw out and compact it into a small, durable brick – this is effectively what Forth has done, using bitumen as a glue to hold the trash together. Among its list of benefits is strength (it’s much stronger than concrete – up to six times), sustainability (there are plenty of landfills, in case the world suddenly stops producing trash), and low energy consumption (holy multitasking inventions, Batman: it will even reduce the production of greenhouse gas emissions). Studies are still being conducted on this potential block replacement, but if we were concrete (and concrete was sentient), we’d be worried. Read more.
Remember that time you made the unfortunate decision to shack up for the night in that travel-through town’s no-tell motel? You shied away from the slimy porcelain and the dirty sheets and swore you couldn’t find a more trashy hotel if you tried. It turns out, you were wrong, at least for the lifespan of the Rubbish Hotel in Madrid, Spain, made up completely from old trash taken out of Europe’s shorelines and landfills.
Built up with old pieces of garbage (much of it once water-logged), this hotel aims to draw attention to the increasing problem of ocean pollution, particularly in European locations hailed (and of course, promoted) for their picturesque beaches. Many of those involved in the construction of the five room establishment –including H.A. Schult (see #1) – expressed frustration with level of pollution in the seas and warned that the Rubbish Hotel (also called the Beach Garbage Hotel) was a sign of what will come, if no change is implemented.
You look at a wall and see two silhouettes, sitting back to back in casual repose. When you trace the shadows back to the figures casting them, however, all you see is a large pile of junk. This is how the “Junk Shadows” artwork by Tim Noble and Sue Webster is presented – as piles of garbage tricking the light into portraying it as something else. The garbage used is the total sum of waste produced by the artists while they were working on the project, making it a reflection of the artists in several different ways (the trash reflects them, but so do the silhouettes).
On a more philosophical level, the art – when paired with the artists’ other ‘light’ works – reflects the darker side in every soul. Famous junk shadow art pieces include “Miss Understood & Mr. Meaner” and “Dirty White Trash” pictured above.
Like a scene straight out of Godzilla, two giant creatures navigate the streets of the world; one will even slowly rise from the water. But these are no creatures from the black lagoon; instead, they are puppets, made of trash, as part of a high-tech, large-scale theatrical production put on by the Royal de Luxe theatre company.
The most remarkable part of the production is the fact that the puppets are created from old junk. The intent behind the project is to make a fantastic creation out of average, insignificant pieces (hence the choice of trash as the medium); and, also to share the story of a divided family in such a way as inspires hope and delight. The primary creator, Jean-Luc Courcoult, has also expressed his wish that the so-called “junk giants” encourage people to dream.
You turn a corner and see them – line by line, rows upon rows of faceless soldiers. An invading army? Yes, but don’t be too alarmed: the Trash People (a creative work by the German artist H.A. Schult, who used pieces of garbage such as soda cans and broken radios to build his forces) come in peace. You don’t have to worry these people are going to decompose, because are made from sturdy, inorganic materials. They are intended as a not-too subtle commentary on the wasteful nature of society and the enormous volumes of garbage it produces regularly. The Trash People have carried their anti-waste message all over the globe, from the ancient pyramids of Egypt to the modern streets of New York in order to further drive home the reality that garbage over-production is a global problem – not isolated to any individual region or people.