By Larry Claflin Jr.
One man's trash is another man's treasure — or artwork — in the case of Peabody Essex Museum's latest exhibit, "Trash Menagerie."
"Trash Menagerie," which opens Saturday, features the work of 24 artists who salvaged common household refuse — water bottles, baking tins, credit cards, old sweaters and more — and created works of art that, in some cases, make statements about the environment and increased consumer packaging.
"These artists collect and transform trash in surprising ways, making beautiful and whimsical animals out of society's discards," Jane Winchell, the director of PEM's Art & Nature Center, said in a release. "At the same time, they're relaying an urgent message about the importance of recycling and the environmental impact of consumerism."
There's a long tradition of artists recycling with found material for economic reasons, Winchell said in an interview.
These works include Miwa Koizumi's "PET Project," which derives its name from polyethylene terephthalate, the material that makes up most plastic water bottles littering the earth's oceans. Using heat guns and shears, Koizumi reformed bottles into plastic jellyfish and sea anemones into an installation piece evocative of an aquarium, according to Winchell.
Another piece in "Trash Menagerie" is Christy Rupp's "Zero Balance — Frog," an amphibian sculpture she created out of unsolicited credit cards received through the mail. According to Winchell, Rupp likens the unknown economic impact of relying on credit to the effect pollution may have on delicate frogs. We're spending money we don't have, just as we're polluting Earth without knowing the future ramifications.
Other works may make viewers look again at discarded objects: "Articulated Singer Insect" is a small, black spider that artist Christopher Conte formed out of parts from a Singer sewing machine, and artist and puppeteer Chris Green constructed a shadow-puppet horse from broken umbrellas found on New York streets. Visitors can manipulate the umbrella horse to make it gallop across the Art & Nature Center's wall.