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Turning trash into art: 9 inspiring artists


Yara Bakker

Metalen Robot
In an effort to raise awareness about the global waste problem, the artists below found a new use for our society's garbage. It turns out that what has lost its value in the eyes of one person can sometimes still be put to good use by another.
Each Dutch citizen produces an average of around 500 kilos of household waste every year. This often includes reusable or recyclable materials, which are lost during waste incineration if they are not carefully separated before being disposed of.

While the former owners no longer saw any value in their waste, the artists in his article thought otherwise. They looked through the garbage of our society in search of useful parts that they could use in their art. As you can see below, this resulted in beautiful and thought-provoking creations.
We will discuss the following artists:
1. Vik Muniz
2. Tim Noble & Sue Webster
3. Daniel Webb
4. HA Schult
5. Tree Guyton
6. Robert Bradfort
7. Erika Iris Simmons
8. Messy Mxsi
9. Subodh Gupta

1. Vik Muniz

The talented Brazilian photographer Vik Muniz cannot be omitted from this list. At first glance you might think that is nothing too special about his work, but appearances can be deceiving. Vik Muniz is known for recreating famous works with unexpected materials. For example, he recreated Vincent van Gogh’s renowned ‘Starry Night’ with illustrations from magazines.

The artist also played the lead role in the documentary ‘Waste Land’. In this film, you meet a group of people who search the waste of the world’s largest landfill for recyclable materials in order to survive. Using their finds, Muniz created six moving portraits in a sharp critique of the overconsumption of our time.

2. Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Tim Noble and Sue Webster are two British artists who met in 1986 while studying Fine Art. The couple uses all kinds of waste in their work, such as plastic bottles and scrap metal.

They assemble this waste in such a way that when the light is shined on it in the right way, very detailed human shadow portraits appear on the wall. With their work, the couple criticizes the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude towards waste that prevails in modern society.

3. Daniel Webb

Artist Daniel Webb decided to go for a run along the coast of his hometown (Margrate, England) one evening in 2016. Seeing that a lot of plastic had washed up ashore along with the usual seaweed prompted him to think about his own contribution to the problem.

To find out how much plastic waste one person produces per year, he decided to save up all the plastic he used himself. When the year was up, he incorporated this plastic into a gigantic mural called “Everyday Plastic”. With his work he hopes to encourage his spectators to limit their own use of plastic and to recycle better.

4. HA Schult

HA Schult is known worldwide for his impressive art installation ‘Trash People’. For this work, Schult used pieces of trash such as crushed cans and electronic waste to make a thousand life-size dolls. These dolls represent mankind. After all, we are not only the ones who produce the waste, but we will also end up as waste one day ourselves. The ‘Trash People’ have been traveling around the world in twenty containers since 1996, in a way like refugees from consumerism. Since then, the exhibition has visited all continents.

However, this is not the only time the German artist has used garbage in his work. In 2020 he also made a hotel out of waste. This work was given the name ‘Save the Beach’. With this work of art he wanted to draw attention to the enormous amount of waste that washes up on the European coastline.

5. Tree Guyton

Thirty-five years ago, Tree Guyton returned to the neighborhood where he had lived as a kid. However, he did not like what he found there. The streets were littered with garbage and there was a lot of crime. In an attempt to do something about this, he made an attempt to clean up the area together with his grandfather and some children from the neighborhood. 

He used the items he found for the ‘Heidelberg Project’. This project consists of several houses decorated by Guyton himself. Every house has its own theme. For example, you have the ‘House of Soul’, which is completely covered with vinyl records. Or the ‘Party Animal House’, which could be recognised by the many stuffed animals hanging on the walls. With this project, he not only wanted to raise awareness about the issue of waste, but he also wanted to draw attention to a district that urgently needed help.

6. Robert Bradfort

The work of Robert Bradfort tends to elicit a feeling of nostalgia among its audience. The artist uses all kinds of toys in his work. As we grow up, these toys often end up in the back of a closet. However, Bradfort found a new use for the forgotten objects of our youth, creatively combining them in his colorful sculptures.

While the artist admits that it is sometimes fairly difficult to find a fitting part, he states that he enjoys putting together his creations in a playful manner.

7. Erika Iris Simmons

Erika Iris Simmons likes to use unexpected and/or used materials in her artworks. She is most known for her cassette tape art. Using the tape from these cassettes, she portrays famous celebrities such as Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Madonna.

The American artist does not only work with cassette tapes. For example, a photo of one of her artworks made from broken vinyl records ended up on the cover of luxury lifestyle magazine Robb Report.

8. Messy Maxi

The work of Messy Msxi introduces the audience to the underlying problems of the Pacific Garbage Patch in a playful manner. This is an area in the North Pacific Ocean of about 1.6 million square kilometers where the plastic waste from three different continents accumulates.

The Singapore Art Museum houses Msxi’s work “Plastic Ocean”. Here, visitors can experience for themselves what it is like to be in a sea of waste. The installation consists of no fewer than 26,000 pieces of discarded plastic, which were collected and cleaned by the artist herself.

9. Subodh Gupta

Subodh Gupta is from New Delhi, India. In his work, he uses everyday objects that have a special meaning in the culture of the country or are common in Indian households. He gives these items a new meaning and a second life. One of his most famous works is ‘Very Hungry God’, a large skull made from kitchen utensils. This work of art weighs no less than 1000 kg.

In his own words, Gupta’s work symbolizes the economic transformation of the country. Due to globalization, the country is becoming more materialistic.

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