After brewing a cup of tea, we hardly even consider the possibilities of a used tea bag before we toss it in the trash. In general, little thought is given to what we discard and any alternate uses it may posses. Although a majority of us don’t ponder prior to tossing, one exemplary artist, Tilla Kuenzli, showcases her couture creations that emerged from diverting “useless” items from the waste bin. “Oddly Elegant” is a work of art, a performance, and a statement that is both admirable and rousing for all audiences.
Initially Kuenzli knew that she wanted to create pieces without spending any money; not out of financial need but rather guilt. Most art materials that must be purchased are toxic, such as paint; more eco-friendly options were desired. Also driven by her frustration with waste and boredom with current art, Kuenzli was drawn to selecting materials straight from the garbage. Being that she is familiar with a variety of creative outlets, her unusual yet common finds were a perfect palette. As most people would see exposed film as a perfect candidate for the dumpster, she sees it as a new fabric to sculpt the body with.
The work became something of a social study when collecting materials. Many friends were eager to participate, especially with the collection of used teabags. They drank, dried, and saved hundreds of bags for the project. Once the final piece was presented, some boasted while others were simply pleased to have been a part of her creation. Conversely was the collection of hair. As organic in nature are tea and hair, society seems to view them in quite opposite ways. Hair, when attached to a head, is beautiful yet once detached it becomes disgusting. Kuenzli experienced this opinion many times when she collected hair from salons and barbershops. These observations of society’s obscure beliefs fueled the work even further, confirming the need to express her point of view on what waste is.
Waste is an end to a process; Kuenzli strove to counteract this by putting it back in the cradle cycle rather than a grave. A key element to “Oddly Elegant” is process, and not just creating the work itself. From the obtaining materials, to thinking and designing, to creation, and even further to the setup and showcase of the work, all was intricately focused on natural process even if the elements were artificial. People played an important role in the process and were integral to the outcome. As the used objects were once a part of their life, they brought them to life in her work.
What emerged from the process of designing with found materials were five wearable pieces, each with its own identity, transforming into creatures when worn. Kuenzli created a living space to showcase her creatures in which we can observe their real life process. Burnt light bulbs dangled from the ceiling, as they were raindrops frozen in time. One wall is plastered with conceptual drawings and notes of the whole intense process, enabling us to appreciate the work further. The creatures themselves moved about the space, interacting only with each other in silence and enjoying fruit stringently selected for their symbolic forms and their visual beauty. Always changing and living, even the presentation continues the process.
Kuenzli’s attention to detail and extremely thoughtful work process composes a solid foundation extrudes to present and defend a compelling exposition. By including people in the art through interaction and contribution, it is instilled in our memory. Her statement on our impact on the environment arrives at a crucial time, yet demonstrates optimism and the beauty possible once we notice and accept this actuality. It definitely makes us think twice before we discard.
Already shown at Cornish College of the Arts 2008 BFA Showcase and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, WA; “Oddly Elegant” will perform two more times over this summer before a reception at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in mid August where it will be displayed for a year.