Wall-E and Recycled Art

This weekend I finally saw that movie allegory about consumption, Wall-E, and it has spurred me to write a post that's been kicking around for awhile: the unique beauty of recycled objects. In this blog we've mentioned art, clothing, and household articles made out of trash or repurposed materials. I've always been drawn to such items and thought it was just because they were innovative and environmentally responsible. Now I think there's more to it than that.

Photo by Chris Jordan

If you haven't seen the movie, it's about the last little trash-compacting robot on a totally despoiled and vacant earth. The opening sequence, showing towers of trash cubes was like something Chris Jordan's photography come to life. Besides fulfilling his function of compacting trash, Wall-E is just human enough for us to identify with but still removed enough so that he gives us a new perspective on what it means to be human—a typical science-fiction protagonist.  As Wall-E sifts through the monotonous landscape in the landfill, occasionally something stands out. A toy, a jewelry box, something shiny or with a face. Seeing the sequence in his lair, filled with all these curios lovingly restored, is to see trash without the stigma. The bleak backdrop allows us to see any remaining usefulness, all of the odd beauty in the refuse lit by Christmas lights.  It is the surprise of something with features lost among the featureless, discovering that amidst stuff that is supposedly used up, that junk still has something to say.

Novelist Orhan Pamuk wrote, "Painting brings to life what the mind sees, as a feast for the eyes." How much more miraculous, then, that recycled art can bring something back to life?  A teapot made from cast-off metal has been somewhere: it has a patina that many are beginning to value quite apart from any earth-friendliness. It's impossible to point out the "best" artists using recycled materials because there are so many. You don't have to be a housewife to appreciate the assortment of recycled art and links to do-it-yourself projects in the Art for Housewives blog.

Some of this art is made to be admired: Mobiles (many with how-to's) of hanging fish or brightly colored shapes made from plastic bags.

Some is made to be copied (see the easy DIY lamp made out of pudding cups below).

Other examples of repurposing ingenuity are available for sale. Etsy, the online community of handcrafters, is home to many craftspeople who recycle or "upcycle" (take disposable commodities and turn them into something of greater value) their materials.

A mod lamp made out of yogurt cups. By a user from Craftster.

What I find most beautiful is this paragraph from the Wall Street Journal article, "One Woman's Trash is Another Woman's…Lingerie."

"Ross Dress for Less has a bag, a solid gray, that I love," said Barbara De Pirro of Shelton, Wash., a 49-year-old "eco artist" who crochets handbags and baskets out of ribbons cut from shopping bags. While she also treasures a "beautiful royal blue" that Nordstrom's department stores use, her true love is a bright red sack with silver lining from Target Stores that leaves her almost misty-eyed.

I can imagine her right alongside Wall-E, open to finding treasures where it would be easy to see only junk.

Tags: Animation, Apocalypse, Consumption, Movie, Recycling, Waste

« Back to Blog



Connect with Us