Over the past year, I have come to think about the objects around me in a vastly different way. Spending months inside made me contemplate the possibilities of what I was throwing away—what might the future hold for these objects besides an eternity in a landfill? Coupled with my newfound interest in textiles and fiber art, my shifting relationship with waste has led me to create a number of small tapestries from materials that would otherwise have been discarded. By providing resources about re-use, I encourage other artists to embark on waste-reduction journeys in their own practices.
As an artist, I am fascinated by material. Thus, when I found myself locked up in my home for the better part of 2020, it was only natural that I started to look at the objects and materials surrounding me through a critical, artistic lens. I began to question the amount of waste I was producing and discarding. Contemplations on how to reduce my waste led me to begin a number of practices that re-use “trash” and allowed me to visualize just how much I had been discarding. These practices have been a part of my journey to enhance my personal relationship with the objects I possess and use.
The first of these new practices was the incorporation of “waste” materials into my fiber art projects. I began using plastic and paper from packaging in small tapestry weavings, imbuing these materials with newfound beauty and importance. I combine scraps of plastic and skeins of yarn in order to give both new meanings and new lives. Instead of going to the landfill, these pieces of “waste” now hang on the walls of my home and my dorm.
Throughout the year, I also wove tapestries and made other fiber projects that did not include plastic, but I began to collect any yarn and fabric scraps these projects produced. I stored these scraps in empty pickle jars, for later use as stuffing in other fiber projects.
This practice allowed me to visualize just how much yarn I had been tossing out, but it also gave these small scraps of yarn and thread and fabric an opportunity to serve a new purpose. The next time I needed stuffing for a fiber project, I had jars full of it ready.
Beyond my artistic practice, I began questioning the waste my family produced in our everyday lives. In response to the amount of plastic I noticed going through our home, I began a practice called ecobricking, which involves collecting all of the plastic waste and plastic bottles that passed through my home and stuffing the bottles full of small scraps of plastic. The bottles, when stuffed properly, are heavy and sturdy enough to be used in projects like building community gardens or constructing modular furniture.
This past year has brought me new insights and realizations about the role my artistic practice can play in reducing waste, and it is my hope that more artists and cultural producers can undergo waste-reduction journeys of their own. Whether that involves dumpster diving, collaging with paper scraps, or even establishing mutual aid networks to share tools, I believe that creatives have the potential to change the way we engage with and think about waste and consumption.
Colin Orihuela is an artist, cultural worker, and first-year undergraduate hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana. His multidisciplinary practice draws from fiber arts, sculpture, and collage.