Collectively, we use a staggering amount of single-use plastic each year—we buy one million plastic bottles each minute around the world—most of which ends up in landfills, oceans, and other natural spaces. Nzambi Matee, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Nairobi, is combatting this global crisis by recycling bags, containers, and other waste products into bricks used for patios and other construction projects.
Prior to launching her company, Gjenge Makers, Matee worked as a data analyst and oil-industry engineer. After encountering plastic waste along Nairobi’s streets, she decided to quit her job and created a small lab in her mother’s backyard, testing sand and plastic combinations. Matee eventually received a scholarship to study in the materials lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she ultimately developed a prototype for the machine that now produces the textured bricks.
Made from a combination of plastic and sand, the pavers have a melting point higher than 350°C and are more durable than their concrete counterparts. Matee and her team source much of the raw product from factories and recyclers, and sometimes it’s free, which allows the company to reduce the price point on the product and make it affordable for schools and homeowners. So far, Gjenge Makers has recycled more than 20 tons of plastic and created 112 job opportunities in the community.
“It is absurd that we still have this problem of providing decent shelter–a basic human need,” Matee said in a statement. “Plastic is a material that is misused and misunderstood. The potential is enormous, but its afterlife can be disastrous.”
Right now, the company generates between 1,000 and 1,500 bricks per day, and Matee hopes to expand across Africa. You can see more of Gjenge Makers’ production and finished projects on Instagram. (via designboom)
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In “Selfish,” what opens with a benign scene at a sushi restaurant quickly turns into a dire assessment of plastic pollution. Created by Canada-based animator PoChien Chen, the appropriately named film begins by a chef plucking a detergent bottle from a pile of fresh fish, assembling various dishes made entirely of waste material, and subsequently serving them to a horrified trio of aquatic life. It then dives into a disturbing series of facts and figures about the current state of our oceans and the effects of pollution on wildlife.
Chen said in a statement that the critical animation was inspired by a visit to a small island in Taiwan two years ago:
It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a 10 minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs sill lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it were a part of nature.
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Thousands of Plastic Bottles Are Suspended in Green Tendrils in Artist Jean Shin's Latest Installation
In her installation “Floating MAiZE,” artist Jean Shin employs more than 7,000 plastic bottles to create a stunning suspension above an atrium at Brookfield Place. The window-lined space allows light to refract through the translucent tendrils, which are hung in a staggered, circular shape. Layered with sustainable practices, the latest installation reuses the green, plastic bottles from the 2017 project, “MAiZE,” which utilized Mountain Dew that was consumed and collected in Iowa, the nation’s leader in corn production. Living and working in Brooklyn, Shin also sourced some pieces from Sure We Can, a nonprofit recycling center in her neighborhood.
The recycled piece falls at the intersection of environmental consciousness and commentary on food consumption in the United States. “Following the food chain from industrial-scale agricultural practice producing corn in America that ends up being consumed as high fructose corn syrup in soda and other processed foods, served up in plastics that become harmful pollutants in our oceans,” the artist writes on Instagram.
Shin tells Colossal that her works help to expose “the interdependency of their consumer habits to the larger ecosystem,” which she elaborates on by saying:
I use everyday objects and detritus that are often overlooked or obsolete to transform them into large scale installations. The lifecycle and accumulation of these consumer objects have a huge environmental impact. I am interested in where these materials come from, where they end up and who engages with them.
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Montreal-based artist Elisabeth Picard curls, fans, and locks together hundreds of zip-ties into tremendously formed glowing sculptures and undulating installations. The futuristic artworks merge geological and organic elements with science fiction to create abstract formations that the artist likens to “landscapes, minerals, plants, micro-organisms, and sea creatures.”
Picard tells Colossal that since she began working with the nylon links in 2011, she’s used more than 300,000 ties. The artist hand-dyes each piece with pastels, earth tones, and sometimes fluorescent hues that will later glow under UV light and add depth with shadows. Some artworks even are assembled with a lightbox backdrop. Each glowing piece is designed to elucidate the contrast between the original material and the final structures, and numeric art, vector drawing, programming, and 3D printing all guide her research.
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French duo Paul Ressencourt and Simon Roche, or Murmure, highlight the nefarious nature of a commonplace object in their latest project that explores the human impact on the environment. The monochromatic pieces illustrate the ubiquity of the black trash bag as it composes a whale, masks the heads of an embracing couple, and floats in a large group through the air like a flock of birds. Each bag shines in the light, accentuating its plastic materiality.
Murmure told Juxtapoz that the black-and-white pieces are designed to be straightforward, a strategy that emphasizes the single red tie meant to signify a narrative thread. “The main idea was to play with the colors of a regular black garbage bag as much as possible. Not only for dramatic appeal, but also for the depth of shades and, somehow, the elegance of its texture and reaction to light. That’s why we use graphite pencil, to achieve this texture,” the pair said.
Ranging from drawings on paper to larger murals, the works are part of a broader project called Garb-age, a nod to the idea of a new era, that directly speaks to the growing climate crisis. The duo says the purpose is to show the power street art specifically has to impact the ways people think. “To us, Garb-age is a meaningful project that allows us to raise awareness of important environmental issues,” they said. Each piece is “a powerful image reflecting the choices everyone faces daily, between our knowledge of the issues at stake and what we can do about them but don’t. We would love it if visitors could pass this first impression and understand there’s hope behind every picture created.”
Murmure had an exhibition scheduled at Galerie LJ in Paris this month, although it has closed due to worries about the spread of coronavirus. However, the gallery has shot a virtual tour that’s available on Instagram, where you can also find more of the duo’s climate-aware pieces.
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CHICAGO—Containing a massive paper wave, a tower of leftover fat, and a tiger-skin rug of 500,000 cigarettes, The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China encompasses 48 works from 26 contemporary Chinese artists in an exhibition on view now in Chicago. Focused on the materiality of seemingly every day objects, the exhibition prompted artists to explore how substances like tobacco, plastics, and Coca-Cola could be fashioned anew. “Taken together, the works introduce a broader framework for understanding global contemporary art, which I call ‘Material Art’ or caizhi yishu, where material—rather than image or style—is the paramount vehicle of aesthetic, political, and emotional expression,” said co-curator Wu Hung.
The Allure of Matter is an extension of a trend artists in China began in the 1980s as they experimented and “exploded fireworks into paintings, felted hair into gleaming flags, stretched pantyhose into monochromatic artworks, deconstructed old doors and windows to make sculptures, and even skillfully molded porcelain into gleaming black flames,” a statement about the exhibition says.
Today, artists involved in the project, like Ai Weiwei (previously), Hu Xiaoyuan, and Cai Guo-Qiang (previously), are engaging with that provocative tradition through their multi-media works that often fill entire rooms, like gu wenda‘s human hair structure that is suspended from the ceiling. “Their monumental works represent a multifaceted phenomenon that inspires us to ask big questions about our relationship to the everyday material world around us as well as the interrelationship between Chinese art and broader trends in contemporary art globally,” co-curator Orianna Cacchione said.
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Editor's Picks: Art
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.