Art Out of E-waste - Poetry? Sci-Fi? Whimsy?
More and more artists see opportunity in the trash and there is plenty around for the picking. Electronic waste, in particular, elicits its own kind of associations and reflections on the state of our world. These three distinctly different artists have each chosen e-waste as the prime material for their work precisely to avail themselves of its evocative potential.
Los Angeles artist Axel Wilhite (b.1985) uses discarded microchips as poetically charged substrates for his exquisite miniature paintings depicting the vanishing abundance of nature.
In 2014, when the computer technician tossed him back his outworn memory chip after an upgrade, Wilhite really looked at it for the first time. “ I could see that it was veined throughout with gold, silver, and other precious metals with incredible intricacy and precision. It had a kind of beauty–certainly impossible to manufacture at any other point in human history. And there was an irony to me in the disagreeable act of trashing something called ‘memory.’ ” The thought that the memory lodged in these little auxiliary modules depends entirely on the presence of an electrical current and is rendered instantaneously amnesiac in a blackout triggered the ensuing subject matter of Wilhite’s work.
He found the memory chip to be a fascinating metaphor for the current precarious state of human culture and knowledge in the internet age. “ I found myself painting scenes of the natural world—endangered animals and antediluvian landscapes on these microchips.” He relied entirely on the “Google image” search tool to cull reference materials for his paintings. In the discarded e-waste and in his process, Wilhite found the perfect vehicle to express how “the virtual” has memorialized and replaced “the real” in our imaginations and how virtual knowledge has impoverished the vibrancy and texture of our lived reality. These poignant and tenderly painted elegies are just a few of the roads down which Wilhite was led in the course of his artistic interrogations with the microchip. Wilhite has had solo shows in Paris, Los Angeles, Taiwan, and Amsterdam.
London-based Polish sculptor Oskar Krajewski (b.1979), aka OK,asks:” Why do we have to throw away everything so quickly? Can we not be content with less pixels, sit with a smaller RAM for a while? Why are we OK with trading our life's energy for data and gadgets?”
Besides his dreams and spiritual practices, OK’s main inspiration comes from movies like Blade Runner, The Fifth Element and Star Wars. Science fiction is the vernacular of his art and he has uploaded the futuristic metropolises into his brain. Conveniently, motherboards look like cities, mobiles resemble buildings or futuristic cars... Everything can be useful in his elaborate constructions. The corner waste bin is his exciting source of free material. “ I love scavenging trashed hardware,” he says, “ It works for me as a free material, pre-designed by the big corporations to please the consumer’s eye.” OK will testify that e-waste is easy to find thanks to our unappeasable consumer appetites for the latest upgrade. “We progress rapidly, leaving behind obsolete software residing inside silicon skins.”
His favorite piece “Recycled Future” took OK three years and 25,000 pieces of e-waste and “everything else” to make. It is extremely detailed and incorporates light and sound to create a mini-cinematic sci-fi world.
OK has coined a word for his captivating and accessible art: “Recyclism.” He explains: “It is a platform for an audio-visual art commentary of our crazy advanced times.” All like-minded people are more than welcome to join.
Sean E Avery (b.1987) who resides in Perth, Australia says: “My sculptures are all constructed with recycled materials — old CDs, computer hard drives, etc, so I classify my work as "sustainable art."
He is a primary school art teacher, writer-illustrator of children's picture books,
graphic designer, muralist and sculptor. His sculptures operate on many levels and for all ages, but are also subliminal teaching tools for his young students.
He deconstructs CD's and DVD's which he cuts into the needed shards and shapes with kitchen scissors. “I arrange each shard by color and size. I then hot glue those shards one-by-one to a wire mesh frame that I shape by hand to create a natural fur/feather pattern. My sculptures usually take a week to make, maybe longer depending on how motivated I am to get them done!” The results are endearing animals and birds animated with a quirky humour and whimsy. FYI, CD’s and DVD’s are made of valuable materials like polycarbonate plastic and aluminium. Though not biodegradable, they will last for a million years, so might as well make an enduring work of art out of them.
Photos of Sean’s sculptures have been featured in print and screen publications all around the world. Some of his commissions have gone to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, Scitech, and Nespresso to name a few. In 2014, Avery represented Australia at the International Waste To Art exhibition in Baku, Azerbaijan.
As a teacher, he is dedicated to instilling the love of reading and self-expression in children. His first (of many) illustrated children's book, All Monkeys Love Bananas (Fremantle Press 2012), currently in its third printing has been a hit with children in Australia, the Middle East and Asia. Clearly, his books and his endearing repurposed electronic waste animals combine in a far-reaching career dedicated to encouraging the love of reading and self-expression in children along with an solid early grounding in sustainable values.
One reassuring note from Avery: “The sculptures are not as sharp as they look - they are only dangerous if you eat them.”
MOoW thanks these and all other artists who are incorporating e-waste into their art for their committed environmental awareness. They are creating beauty and triggering discussion, while diverting this toxic matter from the landfills and incinerators that pollute our waterways and poison our air. We hope that we have inspired your own personal creative agency.