Crafting Waste

Niklavs Rubenis

26 May - 9 July 2016

Appreciate the transformation of abandoned items into useful, beautiful furniture and lighting. Rubenis addresses contemporary concerns around consumption, material culture and waste in this thought-provoking exhibition. 

This exhibition is supported by Rolfe Classic BMW.

Crafting Waste by Eleni Kalantidou 

Milk cartons. Tin cans. Bench seats. Brilliant designs till no longer needed. Their brilliance is never questioned; their nonchalant presence in everyday lives is taken for granted. They become invisible when their one affordance disappears; they appear broken and as a result they become waste. But as wittily described by Mary Douglas broken things can be seen as ‘unwanted bits of whatever it was they came from, hair or food or wrappings. This is the stage at which they are dangerous; their half identity still clings to them and the clarity of the scene in which they obtrude is impaired by their presence’ (1966/2003, p.161). The scenery becomes a point of reference-unwanted bits present themselves as anomalies or effortlessly blend in. This exhibition embraces the ‘danger’ that exists in the ability of a person (Niklavs Rubenis) to detect life in them before becoming unidentified parts of a waste pulp dumped somewhere close to or far from their departure point. The items that were redefined through craft and skills were collected from the side of the road; most of the time they patiently sit there and wait till they get decomposed or carried away by the wind; rarely they become intentionally discovered. The process of spotting them requires a concernful awareness, a conscious state of being where surroundings are sensed and cared for.  Through Niklavs Rubenis’ ‘concernful awareness’, things alive and well, yet scratched and bruised, were redefined through an interpretation that stepped outside the sphere of a mechanistic categorisation of artefacts-the maker chose to allow the materials to guide the practice, the practice was guided by an intentionality driven by responsibility-alive things need to remain alive. This mode of crafting grounded in reviving via re-imagining, enabling instead of imposing and retaining instead of producing negotiates the unsustainable in ways that beg for attention. Why is the milk carton so unwanted after its content is gone? Why does even recycling appear to be an act of balance between throwing away and buying anew?

In this context, the exhibited items depict a dialogue with abandoned practices such as repair and remaking and a re-evaluation of the practice of making within a modern world; is it for the sake of making? Or for the sake of the maker?  Does the maker’s ontology depend on the life or death of things?  Some of the questions are being answered by crafting; life is preserved by letting the sitting bench retain its identity and its previous life, and hold on to the materials that have survived the test of time. Death is prevented by saving a yet to be reconfigured material from where it is left to die. In light of those answers, waste feels like a blasphemy; an insult against whatever can be rescued and revived. Crafting ‘waste’ becomes a revelation of humans’ faulty nature to appreciate life and waste ‘appears as a queer  connection of a word with an object’ (Wittgenstein cited in Panagia 2015, p.108). What this means is that waste is just a naming that wrongfully identifies as litter, debris, junk that which is clearly not, due to humans’ limitations, their inability to find new affordances in things, to creatively reawaken a dead imagination. This reality could be and has been interpreted by a number of designers and artists as a call for yet another aesthetic exercise. But it is clearly not. In circumstances where the Anthropocene has reached a point of no return, repairing, remaking, repurposing, reusing every little thing that can be retained are activities attached to survival, to recognising that material resources have been drained and the present and upcoming natural disasters caused by climate change will no longer enable sustaining a lifestyle built on excess and blinding narcissism.

With this in mind, this exhibition is an invitation and a political act. Notwithstanding ‘waste’ not being the right word for the materials used and revived but a strong indication of how makers treat them, next to crafting it becomes a protest. The exhibits contest current perceptions that signify making as self-indulgence and critique the lack of responsibility that characterises contemporary ideas of what objects should be or look like. Additionally, the craftsman, Niklavs Rubenis, by putting his skills in good use he revalues materials in a manner, which encourages not just his fellow practitioners but also his students to rethink making; he projects his expectation to see them treat crafting not as a spontaneous activity of producing but as mindful acting upon materials driven by whys and hows.

To conclude, attempts to fix and find solutions through practices of design and art tend to fail because the sacrifice of not making appears to be too big to accept. Identifying the work as more important than the self and the process as more crucial than the outcome may create frameworks of conscious unmaking and appreciation of what is still ‘dangerously’ alive.  

Dr. Eleni Kalantidou is a design psychologist, researcher and educator; she is the current convener, design futures and convener, master of design futures at Griffith University.


Douglas, M. (1966/2003). Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. Routledge: London. Panagia, D. (2015). Exposures and Projections. In A. Welchman (ed.) Politics of Religion/Religions of Politics (pp. 99-115). Springer: Netherlands.