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From trash to treasure: Making a statement on pollution through art

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Determined to get the word out about Hong Kong’s critical waste issue, two Lantau ladies are making a powerful statement with art. Bruce Marsh reports.

A report by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) estimates that Hong Kong’s three remaining landfills will be full by 2019. The report also shows that Hong Kong produces more rubbish each day compared to nearby cities at a similar level of development. For example, on average, each person in the Tokyo metropolitan area generates about 0.77 kilogrammes of trash daily compared to 1 kilogramme per day for a Taipei resident, while we in Hong Kong top them all by each producing 1.36 kilogrammes per day. The EPD hopes to reduce the average amount thrown out by each person to 0.8 kilogrammes per day by 2022.

Hong Kong may seem clean, but its public services are straining to deal with the enormous amount of waste that we are producing. The SAR produced approximately 3.7 million tonnes of municipal waste in 2015 according to government records – the highest in five years. Ten of its landfill sites are now full, and being reinvented as parks, golf courses and sports grounds, with just a measly three remaining open.

from trash to treasure

As a result, the EPD is proposing to forge ahead with plans for an Integrated Waste Management Facility on a newly constructed artificial island just south of Shek Kwu Chau. Estimates state that this one ‘mega-incinerator’ could burn about around 3,000 tonnes of waste per day on completion in 2024. However, this proposed solution is far from popular with residents, who are concerned that the incinerator will have a significant impact on air quality across the island, creating health risks for its population.

Few people reading this article will create the 1.36 kilogrammes of daily trash attributed to the average Hong Konger in the recent EPD report. We are aware that waste disposal is a serious problem territory-wide, but what more can we do to help? There are in fact many unique ways we as individuals can make a difference, and two people doing just that are Lantau artists Liina Klauss and Agnes Pang. Both women turn recyclable waste into beautiful pieces of art in order to motivate others in the community to up their game when it comes to trash creation and disposal.

from trash to treasure

Upcycled art

Tung Chung resident Agnes Pang understands and appreciates the work local environmentalists are doing to raise awareness about Hong Kong’s waste issue, however as an artist she believes in making a difference in another way. By creating beautiful artwork from recyclable rubbish, she helps people understand the issue of waste and feel personally connected to the problem.

As an author, columnist, TV host, art and language tutor, Agnes believes it is her destiny to educate children and adults alike to create art, while at the same time learning about the negative impact of the rubbish that we throw away on a daily basis. Agnes has been promoting recycled art for six years, and she is also the founder of Draw 2 Art and Language Studio in Central, providing language courses and art classes for adults and children.

“Besides teaching traditional drawing techniques and use of different media, we encourage students to recycle materials by using everyday items to make art craft,” she says. “We hope they can learn to protect the environment through reusing and recycling.”

from trash to treasure

In November 2016, Agnes published her first bilingual book Agnes Recycles – Arts and Crafts. She also appears on various local TV programmes to share her views. Charity work is paramount for Agnes and she regularly organises events around Hong Kong to educate the community about the benefits and beauty of recyclable artwork. She is also a strong advocate of encouraging students to use waste to create artwork at school and at home.

Agnes’ art pieces are very simple – she deliberately keeps her works small for easy display and transportation. She uses unwanted items, for example foam netting, bricks, shells and toilet paper rolls, to create beautiful pieces of art which demonstrate to the public that the “rebirth of garbage” can bring joy and happiness.

“Art is like magic which can transform simple objects and ideas into delightful pieces. I feel like a magician when I turn things that people often neglect into something surprisingly beautiful,” Agnes says.

Agnes is presenting A Green Spring, a selection of her upcycled artwork at the Central MTR Station (Exit J) through June 30.

from trash to treasure

Environmental art

Liina Klauss, a German art-activist who splits her time between Tong Fuk and Bali, specialises in art installations made from the man-made and natural waste she finds on beaches and in country parks. Influenced by Berlin street-art and environmentalism, her installations not only challenge our perception of art but also our behaviour as consumers and responsibility for nature.

“When first coming across a non-gazetted beach in Hong Kong, I was shocked,” Liina opens. “These beaches looked like (and are still looking like) a dump. The sheer amount of rubbish made me feel totally helpless. Why wasn’t this in the news, in the papers, why did everybody look away? From there I had a choice to stay inactive and get depressed or use my own two hands, my voice and my creativity to do something about it.”

from trash to treasure

Liina hit the headlines in 2013 when she joined forces with environmental group Plastic Free Seas (PFS) to create a 5-metre wide 50-metre long temporary installation, Waste Mountain Water No. 4 on Shui Hau Bay. Her concept was to collect all the trash on the beach, sort it by colour and lay it out in a rainbow. It took around six hours for Liina, PFS founder Tracey Read and around 50 volunteers to collect 100 80-litre bags of rubbish, not to mention two refrigerators, half a boat, a government rubbish bin, construction pipes and ropes used for shipping.

“I made the ugly look beautiful, I turned rubbish into rainbows and people started looking,” Liina says. “This was the start of my environmental art.

from trash to treasure

“When people look at my photographs they usually initially perceive the beauty and pleasing nature of the installations, only later comes the recognition that the colours are actually made up from lots of different pieces of trash. That’s hopefully the moment when we start thinking about our consumerist habits, our lifestyles and our relationship to nature.”

In addition to her installations, Liina creates paintings, notably the Broken Dreams collection, made up of pieces of beach-found waste, broken down and colour coordinated. “It is the conflict between a single piece of waste, perceived as ugly, and the sum of colour, perceived as being the opposite, as being beautiful, which fascinates me,” she says. “Logic cannot understand this contradiction in perception and value: Is it still waste? When does it start to be beautiful?”

from trash to treasure

Liina continues to motivate volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to help realise her temporary installations. For Lost Soles, an ongoing trash-land-art series, she is challenging Hong Kongers to collect 10,000 seaborne sandals from which she will create a large-scale, high-profile installation.

This is Liina’s latest shout-out for support: “Help collecting to be part of a bigger picture; to create awareness to value more and waste less; to be the solution you want to see in the world; to connect; to simply be in nature.” Nothing trashy about that.

from trash to treasure

Photos courtesy of Liina Klauss and Agnes Pang

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