When we’ve finished the last drop in a plastic milk carton, we don’t hesitate to chuck it in the trash. It is, after all, useless waste. Or is it? By Wendy Johnson
Niklavs Rubenis sees value in plastic milk cartons, and food tins and worn out clothing (sometimes ripped or torn), and he uses these existing materials to create new and meaningful objects. A local designer-maker, Niklavs gives milk cartons and tins a second lease on life by making them into functional lighting—like the ones showcasing in the Crafting Waste exhibition now on at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.
While Niklavs lives and breathes design, he’s more interested in the broad impact it has on the world. “We need to work in new ways, think in new ways and interact with the world in new ways,” says Niklavs. “The world is consuming itself very quickly. As a designer, I have to ask if I need to buy new materials to create with, or if there’s another way.”
This new body of work sees Niklavs, also a lecturer at the School of Art at the Australian National University, reverse the design process. “I’m trying to work in a more responsible and aware manner because there’s already too much ‘stuff’ in the world,” he says. “I start at the end and work in reverse to anew.”
This philosophical approach also sees Niklavs create anew from items he randomly stumbles across, like the rusted metal bench frame he picked up while driving his ute one day, which he has transformed into a new piece of furniture that will last for many more years. Niklavs used old floorboards and wood from a bookcase, warped and split from rain, to construct a new seat for the frame. This innovative piece is also featured in Crafting Waste.
It may come as a surprise, but waste is a growing issue right here in the capital. Our population is growing so we produce more waste. We love to have the latest and greatest and so discard items, including televisions and computers, without thinking of what this does to the environment, and we lead busy lives and so opt for wasteful purchasing, such as single-use containers. But is it the right way to go? Niklavs doesn’t believe it is.
Craft ACT’s new Chief Executive Officer, Rachael Coghlan, says Niklavs is part of a new wave of practitioners in Australia using craft to make strong statements on social issues. This is also reflected in another exhibition on now at Craft ACT. Aesthetics in the Time of Emergency, features new works by five Melbourne glass-based artists who share a common vision around environmental issues requiring our attention, such as climate change and nuclear disasters.
“Australia’s contemporary craft culture is transforming,” says Rachael, who brings more than 20 years’ experience working in national cultural institutions to her new role. “These artists have all created beautiful works, applying their skills and using materials to tell stories. It’s exciting, eye-opening and well worth exploring.”
Both Crafting Waste and Aesthetics in the Time of Emergency run from 27 May to 9 July at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. They’re free to the public. www.craftact.org.au