I interviewed two amazing artists for Repurposed a while back – Valerie Arntzen and Christina Norberg, in case you’re interested. The profiles themselves will go live when the first issue of the magazine launches.
Anyway, they’re both artists who work with reclaimed and repurposed materials, and talking to them put a point on something I’ve been thinking about/feeling in relation to both repurposed art and art in general.
There’s something wonderfully optimistic about reclaiming, repurposing, upcycling, and whatever other words might be applied to it. The Maker movement, the DIY trend, homesteading, the efforts that people make that counteract decades of advertising us that new is better and planning obsolescence.
I hate the word “millenial” but apparently it’s the word that has been landed on to define my generation. Anyway, I read about how apathetic my generation is (apathy seems to be a common complaint of the older generation about the younger generation, by the way), and it strikes me that, at least for me, it’s not so much being apathetic as being overwhelmed.
We are the future leaders of the world, apparently. And what a world we get to lead. We have global warming, which world powers only periodically seem to give a shit about. We have rampant world hunger. The bees are dying, so there’s the question of pollination and future food supplies. Genetically engineered crops that live only for a year and seed other crops so that they won’t grow again, thereby forcing farmers to purchase seeds every year where previously they had renewed themselves. Numerous other species are on the verge of extinction. Daily, we inhale oxygen that is more and more contaminated with carbon monoxide and other harmful gases than at any other time in history. We’re all over regulation regarding cigarettes, but hybrid/electrical/other cars are still barely a blip on the market despite the rapid exhaustion of natural gas stores in the world. We pollute our groundwater to the point that in various parts of of the world there is no drinkable water that isn’t bottled. And even in countries where the tap water is drinkable, we still buy bottled water rather than drink it.
There’s more, but I’m making myself tired and sad and existentially anxious.
Which is sort of the point of all this.
One of the things that came out of my conversation with the aforementioned artists was this sense of optimism and community. The wonderful thing about reclamation, repurposing, is that it takes things that people don’t think of as valuable and brings out their beauty, tells their story, integrates them and melds them into a new story. Making the story yours.
There’s something attractive about shiny and new. There’s something attractive about a blank slate to work with. But I think there’s also something attractive about the weight and veneer and patina of older things. And we’re rapidly running out of blank slate. Metaphorically, I mean. And physically, sort of. And, as deeply, deeply fucked as the world often seems, so fucked up that it’s hard to know where you would start if you wanted to fix things, it is wonderful whenever you encounter things that show you that not even trash is all trash.
Oh, and a quick thought about boxes, which is the other part of this post. I thought I would find a neat segue in the course of writing this post, but the first part took a turn that I didn’t expect, so I’m just going to switch right over.
Another thing I loved about these discussions with these women was the idea of thinking outside the box, of looking at things and contemplating different uses for them, different purposes, not being constrained by what is or isn’t expected, either of the object or the artist. I think too often artists (be their painters, writers, reclaimers) try to fit themselves into boxes of what they think is appealing, what they think people want, what they think will sell. Especially fledgeling artists. And you can’t succeed, you can’t grow as an artist and a person, if you’re trying to fit in a box.