Internationally Known Artists Leads Campus Art Installation Using Recycled Materials

November 26, 2012
Willie Cole studies a plastic shape he is fashioning out of a bottle

Renowned contemporary artist Willie Cole has displayed his work around the nation and internationally, in venues ranging from the Met and MoMA to universities, bus stops, and lawns. Earlier this month a diverse array of students, faculty, and staff took advantage of a unique opportunity to work with Willie Cole and with each other to create an on-campus installation—a project melding art and sustainability. The project rests on concepts of waste, impacts, interventions, community, reflexivity, value, and visibility.

Working closely with Wellesley Energy and Environmental Defense (WEED), Elli Blaine '13 spearheaded the project and its communications, with the collaborative nature of the endeavor being part of her independent study ARTS 350 course this semester. During an early semester  executive board meeting, Blaine had learned of the artist as WEED discused raising awareness about waste on campus; she made the initial contact with Cole, inviting him to Wellesley.

Starting in October, community members were invited to donate used plastic drink containers, and a few "Recycling Safaris" were organized to scavenge and gather materials for the installation. On November 5, a mini-installation was set up on Paramecium Pond—a string of plastic bottles spanning the width of the pond in an effort to establish a connection between the bottles and water, increase the bottles' visibility, and raise awareness in preparation for the workshops with Willie Cole. Then on November 9, after hearing from the artist about his work and process, with a focus on art from everyday materials, the group set to work, using materials the community had donated over the preceding weeks. The artwork was installed over the subsequent week in the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, where it can be seen and admired in the Campus Center Impluvium, the glass channel in the stairway at the east end of the building.

Elli Blaine describes the work:

It is an attempt to lend a new visibility to materials we interact with on a daily basis, and usually consider waste. It shows an "evolution" of the materials from the bottom of the Impluvium to the top (where the bottles look like fish). The fish were all made in a two-day workshop with Willie Cole.

This event took place thanks to Willie Cole, WEED, the Environmental Studies Program, Art Department, Applied Arts and the Studio Art Program, Office of Sustainability, Davis Museum Student Advisory Committee, SOFC, CLCE, Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, facilities management, AVI, and many others.