For the past three years, since I first learned about the idea of upcycling, I have come across a lot of upcycled "art." It seems like folks from the arts and crafts world have really been some of the "early adopters," or what have you. And I believe that the idea of using garbage to make art has been around for much longer than other ideas about how we, as a society, might creatively use our waste. But here is my question about "upcycled art," to what end are artists creating their work out of garbage? Is it because they care about the movement and the idea of fundamentally reducing the amount of stuff that we throw "away" in the world? Is it to make lots of money? Is it because suddenly it has become stylish and green to upcycle?
Of course there are lots of fundamental questions that I don't really want to get into here about what art is, what it's value is and so on and so forth . . .but what I'm curious about is if our garbage is actually becoming more useful to us as art. I, of course, believe that there is immense value for the people who create art out of garbage - creative expression is definitely important, and doing it with trash seems like a great idea. But what I am curious about is those who "consume" upcycled art - is this really part of the movement, the system of influence we would like to see in the world? Doesn't the consumption (particularly of REALLY expensive upcycled art) just reinforce the pretty messed up capatalist system that we're part of? Even worse than this is that then people who are buying the art feel all good about themselves because their so "green" and they get up on their high horses and start loving the smell of their own farts.
No, but seriously, I do have some questions about some of the upcycling artists that I have come across. Here is an example. There is a dude who makes wallpaper out of New York Times headlines from the past 20 years or something. He highlights the headlines according to their topic and then pastes them all together to make wallpaper (see photo above and click here for more details). It looks really awesome and seems like a great upcycling idea, but then he charges $1,000 for one roll of the stuff. Then people and companies that have a lot of money to burn buy it and put it up on their fancy walls. Then there are other visual artists who are so concerned about their stuff being copied or downloaded, or whatever and I just don't get that - don't we all want to see more people doing this kind of thing in the long run? I'm just not so sure how I feel about this kind of upcycling.
I certainly spend a lot of time now thinking about the way things are produced, packaged and disposed of. A lot of times I think, yeah, it's great to make art out of waste and hang it on our walls or put it on our shelves, but did we really need to make all this stuff that made all the trash in the first place? I am aware that making art out of garbage keeps it out of the landfills or from being burned for a lot longer than usual, but in the end, what will happen to the upcycled art that we make - will it too just end up in the landfill?
Finally, I think I just really want to question the whole process of creating upcycled art, or jewelry or clothing or whatever for the process of making a profit. I mean surely it is something I have considered and even engaged in, but in the long run, I think the idea is for people to think about their own consumption and waste and new ways of dealing with it. It's not only about finding cool "green" products, buying them online, having them shipped to you and then putting them up on the wall to look at. So, I guess I'm a bit conflicted because I find a lot of this upcycled art really cool and I often consider making this a source of income for myself, but I want to think about other ways to encourage people to deal with their own waste first-hand, instead of buying someone else's or going to Wallmart and making a bag out of juice packs made by terracycle. So, I guess it's both cool and not cool in my thinking these days.
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Little Shiva - wrote:
I'm ok with the kind of stuff you can find at the Visible Trash gift shop (littleshiva.etsy.com), but the kind of upcycling that sucks is Terracycle products sold at Target - gag me! I agree, Aerin, it's about us all as individuals re-programming our brains and forming new habits. My grandma washes out plastic baggies and pieces of tinfoil until she can't use 'em anymore because she was born in 1912 and that's how people of her generation made ends meet. It wouldn't hurt us to do stuff like that too, not because we may not be able to get our hands on another box of plastic bags anytime soon, but because it's disgusting to be so wasteful. And as for the art market and buying expensive trash art - ha! Make your own! Free your mind, your trash will follow.May 10, 2009 | 3:50 pm