Art Created from Plastic Waste

Garbage. It’s ugly and it’s everywhere. But a group of artists transformed plastic bits, bags, and bottles into amusing and even decorative works of art in the current Upcycled exhibit at the Educational Alliance’s Ernest Rubenstein Gallery in lower Manhattan. Upcycled brings aesthetics and abundant plastic byproduct waste into the forefront of consumer awareness.
The artists brought together for Upcycled all share a passion for collecting rubbish from their own trash, city sidewalks, and dumps, and creating work that mesh craftsmanship with traditional art. Since the mid-1990s, sculptor Ilene Sunshine began to salvage discarded Christmas trees from city streets and cut them into pieces for wall-mounted constructions. For Upcycled, Sunshine created “East Ottiserie,” where she uses a combination of plastic bags, leaves, and sometimes dead Christmas trees in a hybrid of drawing and sculpture of sliced plastic bags that are melded together to form fluid montage circular swirls of color.
The vessel sculptures by jeweler and metalsmith artist Shari Mendelson act as a trompe d-oeil, each one resembling old glass vases found in thrift or antique stores. Mendolsen in recent years had been working on a series of sculptures inspired by Giorgio Morandi as well as historical glass, metal and ceramic vessels. Her plastic vessels are based on traditional designs that explore the issues of mass production, waste, history and culture.
Curator Barbara Lubliner’s “Icosahedron” is influenced by geometry and Sol LeWitt’s modular cube sculptures. For Lubliner the attraction of a plastic object is how can keep its original identity, but also take on another role. For “Icosahedron” Lublinber joined whole plastic bottles to form the sides of wire-frame platonic solids. She writes in the show’s catalogue, “The notion of their pure abstract form contrasts with their funky, articulated bottle construction.”
For “Flotsam Reef Spiral” located at the gallery’s entrance, Olivia Kaufman-Rovira created the portal of plastic water bottles she had collected from co-workers. She explains in her artist statement, “By juxtaposing the inorganic material, in this case plastic bottles, with an organic form, I question the boundaries between natural and unnatural and our cultural dependence on man-made materials.”
Originally from Alabama, former graphic designer and illustrator Janet Nolan moved to New York in 1976. It was on city streets that she noticed the hundreds of umbrellas broken and thrown away during rainstorms, and became inspired to gather them for possible use as art material. Collecting and harvesting discarded items became an obsession,and as time passed by Nolan’s use of recycled objects have included lost gloves, wire clothes hangers, plastic six-pack holders, and colorful plastic bottle caps. For Upcycled, the “Can-Can” installation is composed of colorful plastic bottle caps, pacifiers, and whistles resembling a playful DNA model of rubbish. She explains in her statement about the work, “I have no preconceived sculpture in mind when I gather these objects; rather, the nature of the object itself suggests to me the content and form. Through my experimenting with their physical properties, structures and patterns often emerge which are similar to those basic growth systems found in nature.”
Upcycled runs through January 20, 2011 at the Educational Alliance’s Ernest Rubenstein Gallery in Manhattan. For more information, please visit www.edalliance.org.



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