Upcycling art

What is upcycling?

Literally translated means Upcycling "Recycling upwards".

Upcycling is the process of breathing new life into discarded products or packaging. Broken everyday objects or packaging are reworked in such a way that new products are created that are used for other purposes than originally intended. Waste is thus upgraded.

Upcycling is therefore a form of recycling. Upcycling contributes to resource conservation and thus to nature and climate protection. Unlike pure recycling, however, upcycling is not an industrial process. In recycling, for example, an old plastic bottle is crushed by machine and used to make a new one. In upcycling, for example, a musical instrument is created from the plastic bottle by filling and gluing it.

What is Upcycling Art?

In contemporary art, upcycling as a creative use of existing material is apparently establishing itself as a growing trend. Works of art made from rubbish hold up a mirror to our throwaway society and address the resource consciousness of a young, new generation, emphasises publisher Christiane Goetz-Weimer in her article "No future without origin - upcycling is an art of the heart".

The origin of upcycling art is attributed to the so-called ready-mades by Marcel Duchamps and the Dadaists. In 1913, Duchamps created the work "Bicycle Wheel" from a front wheel and fork attached to an old stool, i.e. from bulky waste. Duchamps' ready-mades broke with the previous tradition of art: Duchamps declared pre-existing, found everyday objects to be art. It was thus in the eye of the beholder to ascribe to the object a status as a work of art. This was especially true of Duchamp's Ready-Made Fountain (1917), an ordinary, disused urinal that caused a great stir in the art world. The "Bull's Head" (1942) made from a bicycle handlebar and saddle by Pablo Picasso can also be counted among the first works of upcycled art.

Which upcycling artists can be discovered in KUNSTLABOR 2?

As a cultural interim use project, KUNSTLABOR 2 in Dachauer Straße is in itself a major upcycling or re-use project. The building has outlived its original function as a municipal health office and is doomed to demolition and disposal as construction waste. Until then, however, the building will be given another colourful lease of life and allowed to shine as an exhibition, gastronomy and workshop space.

The Basic concept of the exhibition space is that each artist transforms a space into his/her work of art or makes the space into his/her work of art. Existing materials should be used as much as possible and many materials should be revived.

Discover all the artists of KUNSTLABOR 2:

Here is an excerpt of artists in Art Lab 2 who address upcycling in their work:

Adam Stubley

Raised in the north of England, lives Stubley now 30 years in Bavaria. In recent years, he has created several artworks with a focus on environmental issues and the increasing pollution of the oceans by plastic waste. He was also Munich's "Local Artist" for the #ZEROWASTEART exhibition in 2021.

In KUNSTLABOR 2, together with son Vincent Wildgruber and Marius Hallerden, he has transformed the room "Wake up Call" into a dying ocean landscape, with sea creatures made of plastic sheeting.

Yul Zeser

The Munich-based artist creates large-scale, expansive sculptures and installations that reflect their surroundings, predominantly in public spaces. Yul Zeser uses, for example, old industrial tools or disused buffer stops from suburban trains for his works. 

In the installation "Focus" in Art Lab 2, he staged the old office ceiling lighting in a completely new way in a room with a sloping floor. This is intended to break the basic geometry of the typical office space.

Octavi Serra

The Barcelona-based artist has been developing his artistic work in the fields of urban art and photography for more than 10 years. Serras Works have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, among others. For his art, he uses the most diverse everyday objects and waste materials, such as plastic bags, toast, parking heaters or pizza boxes. What often appears to the viewer to be merely funny at first glance often carries a deeper meaning. The artwork "CLEAN WATTER", a toilet on a water dispenser, is intended to point out the deplorable state of affairs that many people in the world have no access to clean drinking water and live in deplorable hygienic conditions. 

In KUNSTLABOR 2, Serra's Exit Room confuses the visitor's gaze, a room completely covered with green emergency exit signs.

Jody Korbach

Jody Korbach lives and works in Düsseldorf and is a permanent member of the art commission there. She was a master student of Christopher Williams. Her artworks often incorporate old paper drink stamps, the famous red beer stamps. 

These also adorn the walls of your room "Feierabend" in KUNSTLABOR 2, an installation made of leftover utensils from a "typical German civil servant's room" in the former health department, paired with party "leftovers" such as streamers and empty bottles. The work is intended to negotiate the question of ambivalence between order and excess.

Toni Spyra

Toni Spyra is a German artist living in Vienna. By modifying everyday objects and sceneries, Spyra aims to break perceptual habits and confronts the audience with food for thought in a satirical way. His works borrow heavily from Duchamps' ready-mades. An old pan becomes a fountain, a plate a washbasin.

In KUNSTLABOR 2 he shows, among other things, "Housekeeping", a snapshot of a major cleaning, new beginning or renovation.

How do you learn to create art from rubbish?

In principle, everything can be upcycled, you just need some inspiration and imagination.

KUNSTLABOR 2 always offers workshops on upcycling. Just take a look at our Webshop over.

What are famous upcycling artists?

A small selection of artists who have made a name for themselves in the art scene with their upcycling works:

Dan Rawlings

Dan Rawlings is a contemporary British artist. Rawlings uses discarded industrial products as his medium and is known for his manipulation of metal and light. He cuts his artworks from old signs, tools and vehicles using a hand plasma cutting technique.

Dan Rawlings is in the current anniversary exhibition represented at the MUCA with two works:

Tim Noble and Sue Webster

The British artist couple has been working together since 1996. Known are Tim Noble and Sue Webster among others, for their iconic "shadow sculptures", made from household rubbish, scrap metal and dead animals. At first glance, their works appear to be simply a pile of rubbish, but when they are illuminated, figures emerge on the walls, mostly self-portraits of the artist couple. Their first shadow sculpture, "Miss Understood and Mr Meanor" from 1997, consists of broken sunglasses and old buttons from bands, as well as household rubbish.

Guerra de la Paz

 Guerra de la Paz is a group of Cuban artists. The collective was founded by Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz, who have been working together since 1996 and now live in Miami. 

The artists create colourful sculptures from unconventional materials such as old clothes. Their art, inspired by the use of ready-mades, evokes the "meaning of the human footprint" and questions modern throwaway society.

Nik Gentry

Nik Gentry, full name Nicholas James Gentry, is a British artist from London. Gentry uses obsolete technological materials such as floppy disks or VHS tapes as image carriers for his futuristic portraits. He sees his works as collaborative "social art objects", as a large part of his artistic work was created through the use of contributed objects and materials.

Khalil Chishtee

The Pakistani artist lives and works in Brooklyn. Chishtee creates life-size figures and human figures out of plastic rubbish bags. 

He sees this material as a metaphor for "recycling our identity". Khalil Chishtee designed the Azerbaijani Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale.

Vik Muniz

The Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz is a central figure in the recycled art movement. Muniz initially worked in the advertising industry, and his artwork was discovered by an art dealer in New York in the mid-1980s. 

He specialises in reproducing famous masters with recycled materials such as plastic waste, magazines and wires. Especially through his documentary film "Waste Land" Muniz became internationally known. 

"Waste Land" is a documentation of his project "Jardim Gramacho" in Rio de Janeiro. For this project, Muniz worked with so-called rubbish "pickers" on site, who collected waste for his upcycling art and assembled it into sculptures.

Source: https://www.wastelandmovie.com/gallery.html

Upcycling Art Award and Festival

The "Centre for Circular Art, a studio house for upcycling with headquarters in Lübz, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has launched the first art award for upcycling. The "upc" is intended to "honour and publicise creative individual projects". The aim is to create a connecting platform for artists who use unused or waste materials.

2021 this Upcycling Art Award awarded for the first time by the Circular Art Society, selected from a total of 1,213 submissions. The first prize went to a floor installation, a carpet made of advertising flyers, by Ramona Seyfarth. The next Upcycling Art Prize will be announced in 2023.

In 2023, the city of Bochum will host the first ever XXL Upcycling Art Festival. For the festival, nationally or internationally active artists are to implement the theme of upcycling on an oversized scale in publicly accessible spaces in the city. The main aim of the project is to make "a clear statement on sustainability" and to draw attention to the excesses of the throwaway society.  

Is there upcycling from famous works of art?

In the autumn of 2021, just over a year after his death, the Veiling artist's heartfelt project was presented in Paris. Christopresented to the public. For "Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped", the Parisian landmark was wrapped in 25,000 square metres of silver-blue, recyclable polypropylene fabric, tied with 3,000 metres of rope.

Christo and his wife and partner Jean-Claude, who died in 2009, had been planning this project since 1962. The artist couple always worked with recyclable fabric for their art objects. This was also because their wrapping art was ephemeral art, which for Christo was an "expression of freedom" and part of his aesthetic concept.

This approach by Christo and Jean-Claude is taken up by the  #UpWrapping-The collective has taken to Instagram to address the foundation of the deceased artists. The #UpWrapping collective is a group of 50 French textile and fashion companies that promote the upcycling of textiles and call on the fashion industry to become more regional and circular. They made suggestions to the Christo Foundation via social media on how to give the artwork a second life after it has been dismantled. These included the idea of transforming it into solidarity carrier bags that could be used by people in need to donate clothes or food. Or to create furniture from it for the 2024 Olympic Games.

As far as is known, the Christo Foundation did not take up the ideas. However, the approach of upcycling art that is already conceived as ephemeral and recyclable remains interesting.