When Calling Art Recycled Is Not a Criticism

The EDF Diversiterre Foundation — the philanthropic branch of the French electric company — has mounted a new exhibition with an ecological focus titled, "REHAB: The Art of Re-Making." The show does not address "environmental art," which is perhaps too all-encompassing for the exhibition's scope. Instead, the focus is on the incorporation of recycled materials as "a rediscovered artistic practice and the symbol of the struggle against local environmental dysfunctionality," exhibition curator Bénédicte Ramade said in a statement. Ramade likes the term "re-process" to describe how the show's artists are making work because it is optimistically regenerative in tone while not denying the pervasiveness of our "processed" consumer culture.

 

Undoubtedly the highlight of the show is Gordon Matta-Clark's film "Fresh Kill," in which the artist uses a bulldozer to destroy his car, rejecting modern values like speed and isolation. The film was made at a now-defunct garbage dump on Staten Island, which looms in the background like the world's largest collective sculpture. In Pauline Bastard's collages, meanwhile, the artist constructs idealized places from torn-up schoolbooks and photo albums.

Recycled items perhaps lend themselves most obviously to sculpture. Douglas White transforms shredded tires into palm trees, turning the discarded rubber into an almost luxurious tactile surface. Gitte Schäfer adds a touch of humor to the show, with her whimsical Surrealist totems made from old table legs and other furniture scraps. Michael Samuels constructs colorful sculptures out of disparate elements — drawers, glass, pieces of Formica counter tops — that look like three-dimensional Mondrian paintings.

More distressing is the installation "Empreinte écologique" ("Ecological Footprint"), for which Lucie Chaumont has made plaster casts of all the disposable containers she has used, from which she has eaten or drunk, over the past four years. This work of dizzying scope fills an entire room in the Foundation's basement.