Above: Skull made by Haroshi out of broken skateboard decks.
I used to collect art and political manifestos. But after the introduction of the internet and starting a family, I couldn't keep up with the proliferation of ideologies. For some, every tweet is a manifesto so I will take that to heart and keep this brief as well. A micro-manifesto, if you will.
Many, many artists, my self included, have come to the conclusion that if we are going to make something let's reuse cast off or pre-owned materials. The Tate's website defines assemblage as "art that is made by assembling disparate elements—often everyday objects—scavenged by the artist or bought specially." Some artists like the sense of nostalgia and history in old items. Others enjoy the raw textures of Art Brut and oxidized patinas of Arte Povera. In the last couple of decades, though, an increasing number of artists has realized that to consume new materials in the creation of art contributes to environmental harm. They seek to create bodies of sustainable, post-consumerism work.
With that choice, comes the ick factor that surrounds cast off materials as unwanted waste and garbage. People don't want to see art made out of packaging. That stuff is only fit for landfills! Overcoming this prejudice is where the artist's challenge lies. The artist is tasked with taking cast off materials and refining them into something psychologically, socially, and environmentally valuable. Artists that can do this are tantamount to alchemists.
I am not there yet. My work is a combination of used items, some pre-owned beads and thread, and a lot of new beads. I design my work for public display, but I also want it to be pleasant to live and work with, as well as aesthetically enriching.
Other artists, though, are working with some really rough and maligned materials. There are a lot of artists working with cast off packaging. Most of them are pure environmental artists. They are open-minded and I really respect them. Their work is not always meant to be nice to live with. Sometimes it is solely meant to be displayed publicly and to communicate serious existential threats to life on on Earth—including ourselves—created by ourselves.
Here are some assemblage alchemists and their works made out of trash. I hope these examples help you feel a little more appreciation for fine art made out of humble materials. It's important that we don't overlook it just because the art materials are humble.
First up, Jason Rogenes makes futuristic backlit sculptures out of styrofoam. The lighting is where the magic happens.
El Anatsui from Ghana makes sculptures out of scrap packaging. Africans are good at using everything. I'm guessing it's because they haven't been hammered as much with advertising about the ideals of the disposable consumer lifestyle. Just a guess from an ignorant American. (You are welcome to let me know how ignorant in the comments.)
Angela Haseltine Pozzi collected plastic objects off the beach and created public sculptures of sea creatures out of them. The plastic in the ocean is being eaten by the fish that we, in turn, eat. This is neither appetizing or healthy for anybody in the food chain.
I love assemblage made from cast-off or pre-owned items. I could go on and on listing more artists. I'd love to see examples of your favorite assemblage artists. Tell me about them in the comments!
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Julie Mars' current events, projects, & inspirations.