Up to 95% of the textiles that are LAND-FILLED each year could be reused or recycled, according to Secondary Materials© and Recycled Textiles [SMART]
One day you will have no use for what you wear. It could be in a few months or a few years. Where will you dispose of it? You say you can recycle, up-cycle, give away, or throw away. Oops did you say throw away? Don’t do that, and here is why. . .
A 2021 report from the World Economic Forum identified fashion, and its supply chain, as the planet’s third largest polluter (after food and construction). The recycled textiles industry generates both environmental and economic benefits, reducing the need for landfill space. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate 16 million tons of textile waste a year, equaling just over six percent of total municipal waste (for context, plastics make up 13 percent of America’s waste stream). SMART states according to the Bureau of International Recycling Textiles Division, worldwide, more than 60 percent of clothes can be reused and another 35 percent can be recycled or converted into new products.
Visual artists are skipping the landfill and creating sculpted works of art out of discarded textiles.
Pamela Grau and Amabelle Aguiluz embrace the artistic manipulation of creating visual art with the use of unwanted materials. They talk about their delight in the discovery, the process, and the upcycle transformation of discarded textiles into a work of art.
My creative process is about discovery and I delight in the challenge of making beauty out of trash.
Pamela, are the uses of discarded materials a must for you in creating your work?
Not essential but I like the process of finding something and then working it back into a piece of art. Over the last three decades I have created a process for myself of working with discarded materials. I have created a process of hardening it into a paint-able surface and then creating thin patina like layers of paint. I am inspired by the challenge of unique materials. Painting on socks and wool hat felt was an adventure.
Of the recycled materials that you use, the re-purposed wool hat felt is of particular interest. Talk to us about that process.
My daughter, Satya, bought an old hat factory in NYC several years ago. It was a treasure trove of fabrics scraps. There were trash bags filled with scraps of wool felt. I asked her to ship me her waste and then incorporated the materials into my art making practice.
Are you more challenged by using discarded textiles versus procuring new unused materials?
There is a delight in the discovery process. When I find something discarded I need to figure out how to use it and that is a unique creative problem solving process that does not occur if I were to buy material. I think I am probably more creative with something I find rather than purchase.
How does the consumer respond to your art made by discarded materials? Do you find their appreciation for zero waste? What are they saying?
Sometimes folks are entertained by what I am using especially with my sock pieces. However, overall I am not sure the ecology of my work is something that lasts more than a moment. I do think we as human consumers need to rethink how we discard our waste into the world. My creative process is about discovery and I delight in the challenge of making beauty out of trash.
I’m fascinated with the reconstruction, change and transformation of an item and breaking down the materials from its original purpose and function into something new.
Amabelle, are the uses of recycled yarns a must for you in creating your work?
In my most recent work, I’ve been concentrating on discarded materials. I’m fascinated with the reconstruction, change and transformation of an item and breaking down the materials from its original purpose and function into something new. I am curious about the process and discovery that happens as the new work starts to reveal itself.
Are you more challenged by using discarded yarns versus procuring new unused materials? Where do you source your recycled yarns?
I think it’s a different challenge. There are a lot of layers of experimentation to work out when you are collecting materials and building something new. A lot of times I spend hours breaking down the materials and reshaping them until it makes sense. The materials are sourced from my community, family and friends and I also find pieces from secondhand shops or from companies throwing out their scraps.
How does the consumer respond to your sculptured art using re-purposed yarns? Do you find their appreciation for zero waste? What are they saying?
There have been different responses but for the most part people are interested in how the work is made and where it comes from.
These next 3 artists, Phyllida Barlow, Shinique Smith, and Sonia Gomes, presented their work in Revolution In The Making: Abstract Sculpture By Women, 1947-2016 exhibition at Hauser Wirth & Schimmel. These colossal sculptured installations are the basis of discarded materials. Their artistic process uniquely recycles fabric remnants and thrift store finds into abstract works of art. Sonia Gomes is known for her mixed media sculptures made of discarded cloth, found and gifted objects. Shinique Smith’s working method creates an an elaborate bundle of beauty using shredded cloth, ribbons, and other discarded materials. Phyllida Barlow’s monumental project transforms multi-colored fabric into flamboyant pompoms.
Recycling has become the craft tactic of the present.
– Hauser Wirth & Schimmel | Revolution In The Making: Abstract Sculpture By Women, 1947 – 2016
Feature Image: Hauser Wirth & Schimmel Gallery | Shinique Smith, artist, New York
For more information on textile recycling visit the following websites:
- http://www.smartasn.org/ | Secondary Materials and Recycling Textiles [SMART]
- http://www.textile-recycling.org.uk/ | Textile Recycling Association [TRA]
Read more on sustainable fashion in the category sustainable EDGE.