Plastic Bottle Caps Bound by Thread Undulate Across Ghizlane Sahli’s Embroidered Sculptures
Echoing coral, cells, and the contours of the female body, Ghizlane Sahli stitches sculptural embroideries that curve and arch in shapely forms. The voluptuous works are part of what the Marrakech-based artist terms The Aveoles, a series made from plastic bottle caps interlaced with thread. With a background in architecture, Sahli shares that she “is always concerned by space and volume,” two components that manifest in myriad ways throughout her three-dimensional works.
The salvaged caps nestle into dense patches covered in silk and wool, adding texture and depth to the overall works and referencing the inherent relationship between the individual and the whole. “It is the atom that constitutes the substances. It is the cell whose accumulation creates the matter,” Sahli tells Colossal, noting that she finds the repetition of washing, stitching, and assembling her works meditative and trance-like.
“I also have the feeling that each waste comes from a previous life with its own energy. The final artwork is made with the accumulation of all the energies of the different waste and has its own soul.” This idea of gathering proliferates Sahli’s practice, and she often works in collaboration with women in her community who utilize ancestral embroidery techniques, translating the traditional, localized methods into contemporary contexts with universal themes of preservation and vitality.
Sahli was recently named a winner in The Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge, which will be touring internationally in the coming months. For more of the artist’s textile-based work, visit her site and Instagram.
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The Ocean Cleanup Conceptualizes Its Third Massive Apparatus to Remove Trash from the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’
Sadly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a wide swath of ocean between the U.S. coast and Japan is an enormous vortex of trash. A gyre, or system of currents, surrounds the area and sucks debris and litter into its rotation, trapping hundreds of millions of kilograms of plastic waste within its 20 million square kilometers.
Back in 2018, The Ocean Cleanup engineered a slow-moving apparatus called System 001 designed to wade through the patch to retrieve garbage with a massive net. The nonprofit, which wants to remove 90 percent of floating plastic by 2040, is now conceptualizing its third iteration of the machine that will be the largest and most efficient model to date. “When it comes to cleaning the oceans, size matters,” a statement about the new technology says. “Bigger systems mean fewer support vessels, which are the main cost driver (and the main carbon emitter) in our operations. In short, bigger systems mean a lower cost per kilogram.” System 002 removed more than 100,000 kilograms of plastic as of July 2022.
In a newly produced concept video, The Ocean Cleanup suggests that System 3 will now be comprised of three vessels that rely on drones to identify waste hotspots. The ships will haul a massive 2,500-meter wide and four-meter deep net system that sweeps the targeted areas to gather debris and funnel it to a sizable retention zone. Once collected and hauled from the water, the waste is organized into shipping containers and sent for recycling or repurposing.
The Ocean Cleanup plans to create a fleet of ten System 03 machines in the coming months, which the organization estimates will be powerful enough to restore much of the area. You can follow its progress on Twitter and Instagram, and head to its site for occasional live streams.
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Photographer Stéphan Gladieu Documents the Congolese Street Children Turning Waste into Wonder
“So dramatic, so strong, so visual,” artist Stéphan Gladieu said of his first encounter with the revival of an ancestral folk art movement in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Kinshasa is the capital of Congo but also one of the many places American and European countries send their waste. Though doing so is illegal, wealthier nations still export tons of debris with the knowledge that these places do not have the resources to treat or recycle it. Instead, these discards sit, swell, and slowly drown everything around them.
In the face of this ecological disaster, the young people of Kinshasa began to repurpose the waste into traditional religious costumes that were previously destroyed, along with other cultural histories and rituals, by the forced Catholicism of colonization. Gladieu’s relationship with these artists has evolved into the Homo Détritus series.
“(In the photographs), we are talking about ecology, but we are talking about ecology through African masks. As you can see, they’re completely covered up. You don’t see any part of the skin. The traditional masks were done with natural materials. They symbolized the spirit of the ancestors or the spirit of support of the natural world. These young artists reinvent these traditional masks in a way, but they do it today with trash because they find more trash and natural materials.”
While doing research in Yoruba for a different photo project that has yet to be released, Gladieu found some grainy photos of a girl dressed in plastic bottles. After reaching out to the contact, he discovered that several of these outfits already existed in Kinshasa and were being produced by local artists as a cultural response to the growing waste problem. However, some of them were damaged due to the lack of resources to properly store the pieces. The labor ranged widely. It could take a few days to repair a mask or when working in groups of three to four people. When using plastics like the shoes seen in “Babouch” (“Flip-Flop”), costume construction could average five to six days. The most complex garments made of tires, bottles, and metal scraps took up to three to four weeks.
In “Homme Bidon,” which translates to “Phony Man,” brightly colored cups, water containers, and buckets form a mask. With two pails in each arm, the figure balances a water bucket on top of its head. The opening of a yellow container becomes a mouth, and a perforated top represents its eyes—creating a pained expression that also evokes thirst. To the left of the figure, there is a woman in a yellow chair pouring water into her hands. This image references the inequitable economics of water that disproportionately affect poorer countries like those across Sub-Saharan Africa where, as of 2020, 30 percent of people have access to safe drinking water. The surrounding environment also nods to the gendered divisions of women and girls who are responsible for gathering this vital resource for their communities.
The young artists of Kinshasa and Gladieu’s photographic approach set this project apart from other ecological art concerning this region. “I didn’t want to do work that would be dark. A lot of work had been done like that,” Gladieu said of wanting to avoid guilting viewers into paying attention. “People don’t want to see and don’t really react anymore to those images. It doesn’t help them realize that we all have a personal responsibility in the way we consume and throw things away.” This approach also better honors the agency and resilience of the community of Kinshasa. It exalts the reclamation of their culture rather than the systemic violences enacted against them.
“L’Homme Caoutchouc” (“The Rubber Man”) calls out industrial companies that are not relegated to strictly enforced environmental regulations. This charge is captured in the figure’s monstrous stance, rugged form, and emergence from a pool of oil black mud. Similarly, “L’Homme Sachet” (‘The Bag Man”) speaks to the way the plastic bag engulfed many developing countries and quite literally consumed land, animals, and water sources. The abundant layers and repetitive colors represent the excess of plastic that hungrily survives even after we have tossed it into our garbage cans and out of our minds. Along with the depth of representation, Gladieu’s portrait style captures the magnitude of each figure’s artistic presence. He attributes this accomplishment to the collaborative nature of the project.
“I was living with (the artists in Kinshasa). We chose the materials, and I helped provide the money to build a costume or to repair the ones that were damaged. Then we worked in the city to choose the backgrounds. And when I say it’s a collaborative project, it’s also in terms of income because there is a part of the money that I can send by doing speeches and books. It’s a wonderful experience, even if it’s not easy. There are 25 artists. So sometimes it’s a mess, but it’s quite fun.”
You can see more of Homo Détritus on Gladieu’s website, Instagram, or by pre-ordering his forthcoming monograph, which will be released in November.
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Monumental Forms Ripple and Float in Leeroy New’s Sculptures Made from Discarded Plastics
Manila-based artist and designer Leeroy New challenges us to think about the waste produced from everyday materials by constructing elaborate sculptures out of discarded plastics. His large-scale works are made by cutting, twisting, and tying together found objects like water jugs, film reels, tubes, and bottles into forms that evoke a sense of movement or migration. Embracing the exterior of a building as part of the Biennale of Sydney earlier this year, the tentacle-like public installation “Balete” was inspired by the discovery of piles of discarded irrigation hoses at recycling centers in Australia. In “Flotilla,” individual pieces are suspended from the ceiling and appear to glide past like a fleet of uncanny vessels or undersea organisms.
In 2019, the Institute for Economics and Peace reported that New’s home country of the Philippines is most at risk from the climate crisis due to rising temperatures and sea levels. Manila is second only to Tokyo as the city most affected by natural disasters. Reimagining a more positive and sustainable future for his community and the planet, New explores the culture, history, and mythology of his Philippines heritage to underscore the palpable impacts of the climate crisis.
To mark the occasion of Earth Day on April 22, a new installation sails across the courtyard of London’s Somerset House this month in the form of a fleet of arks. You can find more of the artist’s work on Instagram and his website.
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In ‘Turn Off the Plastic Tap,’ Three Tons of Waste Pour From a Spigot Floating 30 Feet Above Ground
Last week, representatives from 175 nations formally agreed to curb plastic pollution in a momentous move. Plastic has become an increasingly urgent part of the climate crisis, and recent estimates approximate that the total amount of the material produced throughout history exceeds the combined weight of all animals on land and sea. Each year, we collectively generate 300 million tons more waste from single-use containers and similar products, a staggering number in comparison to the 9 percent we’ve recycled and a testament to the harsh reality that the planet is engulfed with plastic.
To coincide with the United Nations Environment Assembly meeting, photographer and artist Benjamin Von Wong (previously) erected a towering, 30-foot installation outside U.N. headquarters in Kenya. With the help of the Human Needs Project, an NGO providing basic services to slums around the world, Vong Wong collaborated with more than 100 residents of the large, poverty-stricken region of Nairobi known as Kibera. Together, they gathered, sanitized, and strung up three tons of water bottles, condiment containers, and other unwanted items that were then suspended from the oversized silver spigot.
Although it shows a minuscule portion of the waste produced worldwide, the resulting installation, titled “Turn Off the Plastic Tap,” is a powerful indictment of consumerism and the lack of environmental protections. “Too much of the plastic conversation revolves around recycling and cleanups, but those only deal with the consequences, and not the root cause,” Von Wong writes. “The real solution and opportunity is getting plastic production back under control by making sure we turn off the plastic tap.”
Watch the video below and check out Von Wong’s Instagram to see how the massive spout was constructed—thanks to a Web 3.0 community called the Degenerate Trash Pandas, which funded the installation, an additional $100,000 was raised for charity, as well—and find more of his projects concerned with plastic waste, like this installation of 168,000 straws, on his site.
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Social Issues and the Climate Crisis Intertwine in Subversive Crocheted Works by Jo Hamilton
From a mix of wool fibers and yarn made from plastic waste, Scottish artist Jo Hamilton crochets large-scale portraits and architectural landscapes delineated with dangling threads. Her knotted pieces push the boundaries of art and craft traditions, bringing the two together in subversive portrayals of powerful women and metropolises marred by production. Unraveling at the edges, the textured works reflect on interlocking issues like unchecked capitalism, social disparities, and the increasingly urgent climate crisis.
All of the materials Hamilton uses are recycled, whether sourced from estate sales and resalers or created in studio. A few years ago, she started turning grocery bags, videotapes, and other household items into skeins of yarn-like threads—the artist shares some of this process on Instagram—as a way to reduce her impact on the environment, explaining:
We tend to glorify nature as an eternal and everlasting idea, separate from ourselves and our real-life actions. We’ve held on tightly to these ideas during the last few decades in the throes of late capitalism and globalization, and if we don’t change our thinking, policies and behavior immediately it will be too late. So I channeled my anxieties about over-production, pollution, and climate change into my work, using plastic in some of the works in contrast with the yarn.
If you’re in Portland, stop by Russo Lee Gallery to see Hamilton’s most recent works as part of her solo show Transitory Trespass, which closes on November 27.
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