A comment someone made on my reduce, reuse, reimagine post from last week (on knitting needle jewelry) got me thinking about the idea of repurposing and, specifically, whether simply using something in a different way than it was intended to be used is an eco-friendly thing or if an item must have outworn its “workability” in its first life before using it for something new makes such use an “eco-friendly” act.
In the end I find its an argument I can take both sides on, and one that spins me around and around until I fall dizzily upon something different altogether.
Which is how I stumbled upon this week’s focus of attention: Karyn Olivier, the artist behind Inbound: Houston, a temporary public art exhibition displayed on, of all things, interstate billboards. Specifically, what Olivier did was use the billboards to display photographic representations of whatever really exists directly behind the billboard structures.
In Inbound: Houston, not only is Olivier repurposing existing structures (the billboards), she’s also doing something far more interesting: reclaiming a space usually reserved for big-money advertising in order to create space for public (read: free) art. The result is an art installation that’s sure to turn heads, slow cars, and get people thinking – about the reuse of billboards, perhaps, or maybe about how we might reimagine our environments and our interactions with the landscapes around us. It’s worth noting how ugly many of the items pictured in the photographs are – power lines, transformers, and such.
For me, it’s got me thinking differently about the question that had me searching tonight in the first place: what does it mean to repurpose something, and is doing so an act of eco-activism even if said thing is still useful in its intended way? And I want to say that yes, in some cases, like in the case of Olivier’s installation, sometimes simply repurposing something can be an eco-friendly act. The billboards she used are, after all, still certainly useful as billboards. I’m sure that once Olivier’s run is up, they’ll once again be used to promote car insurance companies and health clubs and maybe even the occasional hit-and-run attorney’s office. But just seeing them used differently, seeing them turned into art and possibly even into a political statement, I think they certainly do make an eco-impact.
What do you think?