The Craft of Creative Reuse

The Craft of Creative Reuse


Virginia Fleck, The Dream Dreamed Me, 2003, plastic bags and tape, 48 x 120 x 84 in.

A very environmentally cool exhibit opened today – but you'll have to hustle to West Virginia if you want to see it. "Renewal Notice: Creative Reuse in Contemporary Art, Craft, Fashion & Design" is curated by Garth Johnson (ceramicist, teacher, writer and Extreme Craft blogger) and runs through the weekend as part of the American Conservation Film Festival in Shepherdstown.

The exhibit is based on Johnson's 2009 book, 1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse (Quarry Books), and features work from 32 of the artists who contributed images to it, including Juliet Ames (The Broken Plate Pendant Co.), Virginia Fleck, Bryant Holsenbeck, Margaux Lange, Amanda and Sean Siska (Bread and Badger), and Christine Terrell.

We got in touch with Johnson as he was dashing to the show, and he was gracious enough to email us a little bit more about it. Here's what he had to say:

Recycling sucks. This is an odd rallying cry for the 21st century, but it makes a great conversation starter. Designers, policy makers, and consumers are moving beyond recycling to embrace more ecologically holistic concepts like "cradle to cradle" and building deconstruction. Recently, I attended ReuseConEx, which is the first conference dedicated exclusively to reuse. Even though I wrote a book about creative reuse, my eyes were opened to many of the benefits of reuse, rather than recycling.

Reusing objects and building materials keeps them out of landfills, as well as saving the time and energy that it takes to break them down into their component materials during recycling. At ReuseConEx, I was excited to find that artists, politicians, sanitation workers and building deconstruction experts are all talking to each other and finding increasingly sophisticated ways to find uses for materials rather than relegating them to landfills.

Artists have embraced reuse from the very beginning. Ancient cultures from Egypt to India regularly "recycled" their buildings, sculptures and objects out of convenience and necessity. Whenever resources become scarce, creative reuse becomes second nature.

Does this mean that the objects represented in Renewal Notice will save the world? The answer is a qualified yes. Although artists save a relatively tiny amount of waste from the landfill, the art that they create becomes highly visible
a reminder of the broader efforts playing out in houses and statehouses worldwide. By purchasing reused items, or better yet, making things yourself, you are striking a tiny blow for reuse. Whenever you put on that repurposed outfit or piece of upcycled jewelry, don't feel smug about how green you areuse it to remind yourself about how much more is left to do.