Art Notes

Artists Turn Trash into Treasure in ‘Rescue: Waste and Redemption’

Susan Lenz in “Rescue: Waste and Redemption”

A showcase of salvaged materials transformed into aesthetic objects, “Rescue: Waste and Redemption” explores the inventive ways through which artists have rescued difficult or impossible to recycle materials from their fate in landfills or as pollutants. Currently on view at the Lyndon House Arts Center, this thoughtful, investigative exhibition demonstrates how the arts can be used to engage and educate viewers on real-world environmental issues. 

“Rescue: Waste and Redemption” was guest-curated by Lizzie Zucker Saltz, a freelancer best known for founding the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art in 2001, where she oversaw nearly 50 exhibitions across the following decade as the gallery’s artistic director. In the past, she has also worked for environmental nonprofits, including the Athens Land Trust and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. In recent years, Zucker Saltz’s creative practice has expanded from graphic design to fabric design under Sugar Und Salt Designs, a small business dedicated to diverting clothing from landfills by revitalizing garments with bleaching and dyeing techniques as well as other alterations. 

“Back in 2012 I curated an exhibit at ATHICA called ‘Upcycle,’ which focused on recyclable items for the most part,” says Zucker Saltz. “I felt that a decade was enough time to revisit the topic, but this time I wanted to take it up a notch and focus on artists who take on the difficult or non-recyclable items that need rescuing.” 

Zucker Saltz selected a total of 22 artists from a pool of 90 works proposed through a public call for submissions. At the forefront of “Rescue: Waste and Redemption” is an emphasis on what Zucker Saltz refers to as material alchemy, or the ability of an artist to transform industrial byproducts into meaningful artworks or craft objects. The exhibition is accompanied by a very detailed 28-page catalog that contextualizes each work with well-researched statistics and reflections on consumer practices, environmental impacts and forward-thinking potential solutions.

“I was looking to represent a variety of problematic materials,” says Zucker Saltz. “And I was looking for strong work that could represent material concerns such as plastic, glass, rubber, metal, etc. The exercise of focusing on the artwork’s materiality brings out a different way of  looking and an awareness of how things came into being.”

Columbia, SC artist Susan Lenz’s “Mandala CLX” consists of expired COVID-19 Rapid Tests hand-stitched in a bullseye-like pattern to a section of a soft pink vintage crib quilt. The piece recalls how domestic spaces were filled with anxiety and illness at the height of the pandemic, while also drawing attention to the un-recycled hard plastics of medical waste. 

Similarly combining textile crafts of yesteryear with the single-use plastics of today, Adah Bennion’s “Returning Star Quilt” is a seven-foot quilted pattern sewn from polyethylene “Thank You” shopping bags. Visible messages that encourage users to recycle the bags at participating locations highlight the performative greenwashing of businesses that absolve themselves of guilt by transferring the responsibility onto consumers. 

Decatur artist Lisa Schnellinger is the owner of Fused Light Studio, the largest facility in Georgia specializing in kiln-formed glass. Her “Blue Flow” series, fused from blue gin and wine bottles, exemplifies how salvaged hard-to-recycle glass can be re-fired into textural abstract works of art. 

Diverting thousands of used inner tubes from the landfill, Atlanta artist Gregor Turk’s “Nomadic Monument: Mini-Conveyor,” “Rubber Stool” and “Ruched Egg” sculptures are wrapped in plump black ribbons of used inner tubes. Here, a lowly material is repurposed into an unusual, striking surface. 

Gregor Turk Gregor Turk, “Ruched Egg”

In addition to the aforementioned artists, the exhibition includes works by Paul Blake, Heather Bird Harris, Lisa Freeman, Casey McGuire, Larry Millard, Zachary Naylor, Johanna Norry, Emily Peters, Pilar, Paula Reynaldi, Nell Ruby, Lenore Solmo, Kelly Thompson, Jon Vogt, Michael Webster, Mathew White, Kelsey Wishik and Joni Younkins-Herzog. 

“I hope [viewers] gain a heightened awareness of how stuff is being made that is inherently polluting, in contrast to how it could be made so much better with a circular model in mind,” says Zucker Saltz. “Can it be taken apart, can those parts be recycled? How can I reduce the landfill in my town? Artwork can help viewers see their world more clearly by distilling images down in a way that can focus our understanding.” 

“Rescue: Waste and Redemption” will remain on view through June 15. Organized by Andrea Trombetta and Paula Reynaldi, a Rescue Fashion Show will highlight designs by Emily Peters, Kate Windley and Zucker Saltz—as well as music by Jon Vogt—on May 23 at 6 p.m.

While at the Lyndon House Arts Center, be sure to also visit the Green Life Exhibition currently on view in the North Gallery. Held in conjunction with the Athens-Clarke County Green Life Awards, this annual juried art show is designed for K-12 students to explore environmental education and sustainability through painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and poetry. This year’s theme challenged students to create artwork in response to the prompt “Climate Champions: The Climate is Changing, How Can We?” A closing reception for the Green Life Exhibition will be held Apr. 25 at 4 p.m.