Tag Archives: recycled materials

Steampunk Objet d’art

Synergy Gallery presents “Alchemy” by Erno Berkovics Sanders an exhibition of beautiful, steampunk, sculptures/lamps. Based on the solar system the lamps include: Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Earth, the Sun and the Moon in solid bronze, copper and brass and 24 carat gold guitar strings.

Erno Berkovics Sanders, Earth, (image courtesy of Synergy Gallery)

Erno Berkovics Sanders, Earth, (image courtesy of Synergy Gallery)

The stands are made of old fire hoses, large solid polished brass gears from pastry mixers and pistons from a tea bag making machine. Some of these object d’art have kinetic elements, rotating to create small lightshows, and all are electric and fantastic. The quality and beauty of the design, craftsmanship and materials in these Erno Berkovics Sanders’s alchemy is awe-inspiring. Alchemy is turning base matter into gold and that has clearly happened here.

Erno Berkovics Sanders migrated to Australia in 1956 from Budapest worked as builder for most of his life and this is the first exhibition from this “reclusive mature artist”. (Dare I call him an ‘outsider artist’? This ambiguous term has been abandoned in art-speak for almost a decade.) It is evident that Sanders did not waste his time as a builder obviously adding many skills and collecting much of the recycled, found and re-purposed materials in this exhibition.

Alchemy at Synergy Gallery

Alchemy at Synergy Gallery

Synergy at CERES, environmental park is a small works gallery in the Red Train. The 100-year-old red rattler carriage is a wonderful setting for this exhibition. The carriage has been refurbished with some of the sections of seats removed, track lighting installed but the old wood panels, mirrors and pressed tin ceilings have been preserved.

The old train carriage reminded me that there almost was a steampunk Melbourne. The cutting edge technology of brass tubes and cables of the steampunk world was here in “marvellous Melbourne”. There was a steampunk future for the city complete with the longest pneumatic power and communications system in the world. But it was a future that never was, due the Australian banking crisis of 1893 and the end of the gold mining boom.

Steampunk Melbourne would have been an odd kind of future city where there were telephones before there were sewers. And where parts of the public transport system was degraded before it was expanded. Melbourne could have had two rail loops, north and south of the Yarra, but they were both scrapped in favour of a spoked pattern radiating from the city. (I didn’t use public transport to get to Ceres; I am continuing to ride my bike to exhibitions. Melbourne’s poor public transport is damaging to its culture.)


Award winning junk

Daniel Lynch won the best sculpture award at the 2010 Australian Wood Design Exhibition in Orbost. Most of the awards in the Wood Design exhibition are for furniture, musical instruments and carving. The sculpture award is only $500 but it is good to see Daniel Lynch gaining further recognition, as he is a remarkable sculptor.

Junky Projects at Sweet Streets 2010

Daniel Lynch’s sculptures are made from recycled materials, wood, tin cans, bottle caps and other junk. These simple materials are nailed together to make anthropomorphic sculptures of little junk people. Lynch’s sculptures are the descendents of the assemblages of Marcel Janco, Kurt Schwitters and Max Ernst that have grown up on the streets of Melbourne. For Daniel Lynch is the street artist, also known as, Junky Projects. Turning junk into sculpture is a neat trick that many artists have accomplished; Daniel Lynch goes one step further in returning this junk as sculptures back to the streets, completing the recycle. There are many more entries about his sculpture in this blog – try using “junky” as a search term in the search box on this blog.

I wasn’t in Orbost to see the exhibition but I did read about it in the Moreland Leader (17/1/2011 p.3). The Moreland Leader does a good job covering the local arts scene (although they did misspell Daniel’s name). There are always several stories about the arts in every issue of the Moreland Leader. If only the reporters would occasionally report on the arts rather than just promote the arts.

Junky Projects in Brunswick

Junky Projects in the city

Carmen Reid @ Brunswick Arts

I was happy to see the recent graduate show at Brunswick Arts, Launch 09, curated by Alister Karl, because it contained more work by Carmen Reid. Last year I wrote a review of her exhibition with Beau Emmett at RMIT’s First Site gallery (see my review: Interiors).It was one the outstanding exhibitions that I saw in 2009.

“It (First Site) was an ideal space to respond to with all the quirks of the space, the niches, stairway, vent and general subterranean location, and was an excellent opportunity at that point in time to get out of the studio and create a cohesive exhibition. Some of the works we’d made individually prior to conceiving of the show, while others were made specifically for the space -collaboratively and separately.”

Carmen Reid Dwelling Machine 2

Carmen Reid Dwelling Machine 2

Carmen Reid recycles old household fittings into wall-mounted sculptures. Bathroom fittings like taps, shower pipes, towel rings, and adjustable mirrors are reused in quirky possibilities. Reid is interested in “the potential of inanimate objects to evoke empathy and prompt narratives.”

Although in the Brunswick Arts exhibition Reid is working solo in this show her artistic vision, along with a few reworked pieces from the First Site show, continues to be refined or adapted. Cloth covered electrical cord flows around the gallery, providing connections between objects with the implied narrative of causality that connects the light-bulb to the switch.

There is a playful quality to Reid’s work; there are a few subtle visual puns. You don’t need to know any great critical theory to understand or enjoy it. There is a whole block of metal hooks in all sizes and shapes.

Carmen Reid, Dwelling Machine - hooks and envelopes

Carmen Reid, Dwelling Machine – hooks and envelopes

The old materials give Reid’s art an appealing retro style and a fascinating feeling of intrigue. They are from an era of houses retrofitted with modern electricity and indoor plumbing. “Analogue fixtures are all about the body and the impulse to touch.” Telephone receivers and lots of switches are combined in imaginative assemblages. The paper from the ‘memo roll’ along with vacuum hoses and telephone cords extend into the upper floor of Brunswick Arts.

Reid thinks about these domestic assemblages as portraits, “not literally/figuratively, but as a trajectory for the thought process of an inhabitant in the process of dwelling; of habitual responses to fittings etc in the home distractedly mingling with thought.”

Most of Reid’s sculptures are mounted, or installed, on square redgum blocks. These mounts, or plinths, are from old bits of fencing that Reid found in her backyard. Reid sources most of her materials second-hand, or find them lying around. But looking closely amongst these readymade recycled materials there are also casts of light switches, made of candle wax, and cast bronze light-globes. Reid’s main purpose for combining them “is to do with the idea of ‘dwelling’-of slipping in and out of awareness of reality and the quality of things that surround us.” These are surreal works; Magritte’s bowler-hat wearing man would feel at home in Carmen’s Reid’s world.

(Thank you Carmen Reid for your replies to my emails and the photos.)

Once was a beach

The skull of a blue tongue lizard, partially mummified by the hot desert air, is a natural sculpture. Jan Learmonth’s “Once was a beach” at Mailbox 141 is a superb exhibition with a strong environmental theme perfect for this record breaking hot summer.

Using found materials and the red sand from the Tanamai desert Learmonth has created beautiful, evocative dioramas in each of the mailboxes. The dioramas of a dry desert world that Learmonth has created are stark and terrible in their beauty.

The scenes include the activities of humans. Humans are clearly responsible for some of the sculptural elements in her landscapes. The bare desert environment makes simple sculptural forms even more powerful. The piles of seeds, stones, the rusting metal and the boats are evidence of their actions. And are humans also the creators of this desert environment?

Boat forms are Learmonth’s sculptural trademark, in this exhibition they are as small as jewellery. They hang or are balanced on wooden poles above the red sand. Learmonth’s boats in the desert are the perfect symbol for a disastrous environmental change.

These miniature worlds depict a harsh desert world where there once was a beach; inspired by the ancient seabed that now forms the Tanamai desert in central Australia. Are Learmonth’s scenes scientific warnings about our future? Has the Australian beach culture of sun, surf and sand created a desert of just sun and sand? 

First Recycled Art Materials

There is a lot of interest in the art world about sustainable art practice. I know this from the search engine terms that find my blog. On search engine terms that found my blog was “who was the first artist to use recycled” (materials)?

The question is not an easy one. It does need to be refined a little because due to the nature of art materials, some like bronze or gold are bound to be recycled. Architects have recycled building materials since ancient times. Supports for paintings are also frequently recycled with new paintings painted over the old one; I have even seen a Murillo painted on the face of a South American obsidian carved mirror. In this last example the South American carving was preserved as Murillo used the smooth mirror face as a support for his oil painting, recycling it by repainting. I will presume that the question implies that the use of recycled materials is apparent in the finished art.

Perhaps Medieval reliques with recycled Roman seals cut from semi precious stones would be the answer to the question except these are work of anonymous craftsmen. I will probably ignore a lot anonymous or obscure people who used recycled materials in art or crafts. And I have ignored non-Western artists.

So for the dead white male art history answer: I am tempted to say Duchamp, Picasso or Braque between 1912-14. Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel 1913 but I don’t know that the materials were recycled; in later readymades Duchamp purchased the objects from hardware shops. Nor do I know if any of Picasso or Braque’s materials used in their early Cubist collages of 1912-14 were definitely recycled. But it is very likely that one of these artists was the first. By 1917 the Dadaists had made collage and montage part of their artistic practice and by 1920 recycled materials in art were part of the media of art, or at least, anti-art.

There is no photo finish to consult to answer this type of questions. As Epicurus used to say: “Here are some answers, choose one.”

Sustainable Art

The Counihan Gallery is showing Embodied Energy curated by Penny Algar and Edwina Bartlem. Embodied Energy exhibits the work of 13 contemporary Australian artists addressing sustainable contemporary art practice. The curators have also addressed questions of sustainable gallery practice: the foam core has gone replaced by paper didactic panels and the food at the opening was local including some great green olives. It is a timely exhibition opening on world environment day.

Not all of the art in the exhibitions makes you think about sustainable contemporary art practice. Some of the art in the exhibition merely expresses an awareness of the environment like Ros Bandt’s audio work and Robyn Cerretti’s video installation. The use of recycled or found natural materials, in most of the art in the exhibition, is such an established tradition in both modern and contemporary art that its inclusion is somewhat redundant. And there are contemporary Melbourne artists with more environmental concerns in their art practice, like Ash Keating, than the artists selected for the exhibition.

Much of the art was ephemeral installations, like Chaco Kato’s large wall work made of pins and dried grass: “A Weed-Scape, A Weeds Project.” In Hannah Bertram’s, “I found you in the garden. Some one had left you there”; the accumulated grime on old panes of glass had carefully been removed in rococo patterns. It reminded me of Duchamp’s Large Glass and Picabia’s photo of the layer of dust on it.

Green recycling into art is the theme of the installation and process artwork of Tony Adam. Adam’s plays with ‘green’ in the installation, both the color and praxis.  His installation is a process, an assembly line, from recycled material to art, made of recycled materials, in a vitrine. There is a wonderful attention to detail in Adam’s installation: the idea of ‘green’ appears on so many levels from the recycling to the green pencil case with green pens.  Moving through the installation tells the story. Adam’s is part of the installation, his activity and interaction with the viewers is part of the work (he will be working there Friday to Sunday). After talking with Tony Adams at the exhibition he gave me a badge made of an old bottle-top part of the final product from the vitrine (thanks Tony).


Artists, along with the rest of the population of this planet, are becoming more environmentally aware. An argument could be made that artists, from the Romantics onwards, have been the avant-garde of the environmental movement; indeed, the idea of “green politics” is a creation of German artist, Joseph Beuys. Consequently there is interest in the arts community for environmentally sustainable or friendly products, as well as, environmental issues.

Some art materials, especially oil-based printmakers inks, can be dangerous to the health of the artist; others are harmless natural products. The Museu d’Art Contemporary Barcelona warns visitors not to touch the art because of “unstable and toxic” materials; the best ‘do not touch’ notice that I’ve ever seen. And if the materials used are dangerous to the health of the artist, then their manufacture is dangerous to the environment.

Some art materials produced are produced in quantities that its manufacture has environmental impact. The impact of paper pulp mills on the environment is well known. Marble and stone quarries require backfilling and re-vegetation and.

Most art is intended to be durable and as a durable good it is intended to last forever, at least centuries, and the durability and longevity of art reduces the overall environmental impact.

But the ecological footprint of art is larger than just manufacturing, there is transportation especially the transportation of the heavy materials for some sculpture, studio lighting, gallery lighting and climate control are amongst the other issues to consider.

One way to be environmentally friendly in art is to use recycled materials, saving money and reusing waste. Artists have been featuring the use of recycled material in their art from early in the 20th Century. Artists like Picasso, Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Hoch were early masters of collage and sculpture from junk. I haven’t been to the Sustainable Art and Design Centre in Newton, part of the Reverse Garbage initiative; it is a pity that the Reverse Garbage initiative in Melbourne closed many years ago, as it was an excellent resource.

I have noticed more Melbourne artists, including John Bodin, Emma de Clario, and Alison Hanly, are using Tony Knoll’s invention, the Panelpop supports for their art. These “minimal carbon” panels are made of recycled materials and they are very durable. The surface is very smooth and matt like plaster and digital photographs can be printed directly on the surface. Panelpop do not require glass over the photographs or drawings further reducing their environmental impact.


Beau Emmett and Carmen Reid “Semi Detached” at First Site is an excellent exhibition. The familiar domestic objects and fixtures used in this exhibition are made uncanny rearranged with a playful logic that places carpets on the ceiling and plumbing in chairs. It is creates a new curious world of improvised scrounged materials. The materials have been detached from their original setting and reassembled to create new structures.

There are some impressive sculptural work, “architectural fragments” as Emmett and Reid call them, and some wonderful small works, mostly involving plumbing or wiring. There is a great cone of house bricks, an old door and door-jam (the door has carefully curved in an arc and is unable to shut), a bed in a box under a pile of earth, two chairs that have been plumbed with taps, and much more. Most with a wonderful worn aesthetic and the nostalgia of early 20th domestic materials. Some of the works didn’t work as well as the others. I thought that the carved wooden hammer and bent nails were too arty and new, compared to all the other materials used. But these are minor quibbles about an exhibition that on the whole is great fun.

The exhibition uses ambience the basement of Story Hall at RMIT as a feature and the subdued lighting highlights the architecture. Some of the features are as quirky as the objects on exhibition, especially the stairway that goes nowhere. Other features contributed to the exhibition as the ventilation caused the carpet squares to flap eerily.

Upstairs at RMIT Gallery German artists (with a lot more profile and money and bigger studios than Emmett and Reid) are doing similar sculptural art with domestic interiors. “Come-in” is an international touring exhibition showing “interior design as a contemporary art medium in Germany”. This exhibition demonstrates that Emmett and Reid’s art is in tune with contemporary European art trends and have a comparable quality. Seen together these two exhibition make excellent pair of contemporary sculpture.

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