All about upcycling

As published in The Week on September 28, 2012.

For Anita Khanal Bhattarai, a Printmaking MFA student at Lalit Kala Campus, it’s been tough to get her hands around cutting metal.

“The first day I had a difficult time and my hands were sore,” she put in cheerily on Wednesday, September 26. “But I’m getting better at it.” With protective gloves on, she presses hard on the round tin can with a metal cutter to make a zigzag outline that emulates mountain ranges.

This particular tin can is old, rusty and once upon a time held something edible before it ended up as trash up in the Everest region. The can made its way down to Kathmandu, along with five tons of garbage during the Save Mount Everest Clean-UP Expedition Campaign Spring 2011 and 2012 headed by the Everest Summiteers Association.

The can’s journey now continues as Anita transforms it into a work of art as part of the Mt. Everest 8848 Project I organized by Da Mind Tree and its art branch, the Art Club Nepal. The theme of their month-long symposium is “Journey towards our future.”

Da Mind Tree (DMT) is an event management company and Art Club Nepal is its branch that oversees all art-related events. For Art Club Nepal, this is their first major project. Sculptor Sudershan Rana is the director of this group of contemporary Nepali artists and researchers.

It was some eight months back when DMT’s team, with Kripa Rana Shahi as its director, first approached NMA with the idea of their project – “an art and sculpture symposium on transforming waste materials collected from Mount Everest.”

“When we were approached by DMT, we were more than happy,” stated Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) General Secretary Deebas Bikram Shah at the opening event of Mt Everest 8848 Project I in Kathmandu on Thursday, September 20. “Here, we had waste from the Everest lying around while they wanted to create something out of it. Why not?”

After planning, raising some funds, seeking collaborators and getting together interested artists, DMT and the Art Club Nepal began their symposium on Friday, September 21 at Shiva Sadan in Bhainsepati. Among the major sponsors of the project are NMA, Hotel Annapurna, Fishtail Lodge, and Everest Summiteers Association (ESA).

Scattered all over the place in piles at Shiva Sadan are now ‘raw materials’ for art, and not ‘trash.’ It took two days to sort and clean all the materials DMT got from ESA. A total of 17 artists are participating in the symposium and each of them has received the same kind and amount of materials to work with. These include tin cans of all sizes, beer cans, bottles, utensils, parts of mountaineering equipment such as ladders and tent stakes, oxygen cylinders and mountaineering portable stoves, some of which still contain gas.

“The expiration date on this is 2011, which means that it was used and thrown pretty recently,” Sushma Shakya pointed out at a beer can. On Tuesday evening, September 25, she had already cut out several flowers-like shapes out of the quite malleable beer cans. But not all of the materials are recent. There are plenty of food tin cans which have rusted beyond recognition and are probably hazardous to even touch with bare hands.

“Each artist has to create five artworks in total and then all have different hours and styles of working,” put in Sudershan Rana. Artists have the option of staying at Shiva Sadan as well and can work till late in the night. Lalkaji Lama, for instance, has been staying at the
location itself.

A sculptor with over two decades of experience, Sudershan informed, “All of us will also be collaborating on a monumental piece which will be installed at the International Mountain Museum in Pokhara.” The title of this work has already been announced as ‘The Gateway to the Himalayas.’

Creating the works is only the first phase of Mt. Everest 8848 Art Project I. A similar project had been done in the past with waste materials from Everest. The works, however, were not displayed.

“In our second phase, we’ll be exhibiting the sculptures in Kathmandu and Pokhara,” outlined Kripa. The larger aim of the Art Club Nepal is to transport the works and have them installed in the Everest region itself.

“The artists aren’t receiving any kind of allowance for this project due to lack of funds and the biggest satisfaction for us would be to have our works on permanent display in the Everest area,” stated Sudershan and added with hope, “It’s a very costly undertaking but we are still aiming for it.”

If these artworks can really be taken and installed along the trekking and mountaineering routes, it could generate public awareness and make people – locals and foreigners – more conscious of the waste problem. Art could really make an impact.

“When you ‘recycle’ something, you are recreating it for further use,” explained Sudershan. “This means that you are once again producing carbon to recreate it and will produce more carbon as you reuse it. Upcycling, instead, is about upgrading the value of the material (in this case, aesthetically) but in a more environmentally effective way.”

The word here is, therefore, ‘upcycling’ and not ‘recyling.’

Not all artists in the symposium, like Anita, come from sculpture background. Krishna Thing and Keshab Raj Khanal are painters.

“But since this is a symposium and we are all working in one location, we get to interact and learn from each other and that’s been helpful for us,” opined Keshab.

On the other hand, Tara Prasad Ojha, albeit being a sculptor, hasn’t really worked with metal. Tara, whose choice of material is stone, revealed, “When I’m working with stone, I feel like I’m in control. But here, it’s the other way around. The material controls what I can do and cannot do.”

Whatever their personal disciplines may be, it will be interesting to see what kind of creations the artists will churn out in the next couple of weeks.

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