Sue Santilhano is a member of the Glastonbury Friends of the Earth group (so I am lucky enough to get to work with her!), works at the wholefood shop Earthfare, and is studying the Foundation Art and Design Course at Strode College. Her current college project is ‘What do you care about?’ With many discussions going on around plastics at the moment, Sue chose to base her artwork on using plastic waste in art.
Sue’s textiles tutor suggested that she collect crisp packet rubbish from the college, to show that it all would have all gone to landfill. Her main project next year is on Design Activism, and Sue aims to alert people alerted to what they are wasting, to encourage a change in mentality. If we worked together, imagine what we could achieve, like the Zero Waste Village in Japan.
One of Sue’s main influences is Alison Harper, who is doing a PHD on using waste for art. She knits paper from single-use paper coffee cups, aiming to alert people to what’s going on when we just throw them away. We are living our lives as if we can endlessly throw things away. She made yarn by cutting plastic strips and reinforcing stitching and manipulation of paper from disposable cups.
Harper created a book out of paper cups, without text, calling it the ‘Book of Lost Knowledge’ – a reflection of the detachment and lack of knowledge every day people have from basic materials. Harper has had exhibitions all over world.
Paper was once a luxury item, and very expensive. Japanese momigami paper is crumpled paper from particular plant. There is a spiritual connection with it, as the paper has a direct connection with living plant. It is respected as coming from the earth. We have clearly lost that connection: paper come from trees that take ages to grow, and then we just coat it in plastic so it’s waterproof, so it can’t be reabsorbed into soil.
Sue sees the tricky side of creating things from plastic, because the things she makes are all still plastic! Harper knitted crisp packets together, and people would comment how beautiful it is. She would think ‘no it’s just litter!’ It’s a hard thing to communicate. Of course there is an argument that it is cheaper to make crisp packets, and it’s better for climate change than creating glass and driving these larger items around the countryside. What is for the best?
TerraCycle is an organisation that collects certain company’s rubbish: it’s about zero-landfill. For example McVities packets sent to them. It is good that some companies are trying to be responsible enough to find somewhere to recycle them. Many things are recyclable but it’s getting them to the place to do it! Sue has found that it’s become a bit of an obsession: there are lots of recycling ways available, but it’s not yet fully broken into the world of plastics. Even if we could easily recycle it, it doesn’t stop consumerism: surely it’s also necessary to consider what we’re buying in the first place!
The first step is changing the mentality. Sue has introduced 3 recycling bins in Earthfare: for plastic bottles, polythene, and the tetra cartons. Tetra can be recycled very easily! However, people are often in a hurry and put things in the wrong bins- the fact is we still can’t sort our rubbish! The Book of Lost Knowledge reflects how we have become a throw-away culture. Things are 100% recyclable (there is probably enough aluminium in the world to keep re-using it, if only we can recycle it). In a capitalist society we need jobs to make money, so we perhaps have a child-like mentality like when as a child we’d throw litter on floor and think ‘that’s someones job to pick it up’. However we are seeing more and more jobs in sustainability now.
Sue aims to use this art work to change people’s mentality, making the invisible, visible. We so often throw things away and forget about it: but it still exists somewhere! It should be easy, but we are getting there. It was not so long ago that they introduced recycling bins outside houses and lorries that sort it. Green Wedmore are making a map for all green initiatives in Somerset.
And other countries do it very well: in India, they recycle everything, it’s a good business! The Japanese are very good, such as Kintsugi: the art of mending things. When something is repaired, it is more beautiful and more loved. Like when you have a row with a loved one, it feels broken, but actually the relationship becomes stronger afterwards. Just because something broken: love it and honour it, mend it! It’s a beautiful art form which repairs ceramic with gold. They see it as a reminder that we are stronger and more beautiful for having been broken. This spiritual idea helps us in difficult times.
Sue and the other college students will have an exhibition at the end of the year. When the sustainability project is over, Sue’s next project will be about the Suffrage movement and how women got the vote. It will focus on persistence, about how people carry on even when times are difficult, how we must keep trying and trying. Even though things can be painful, the result is maybe even more beautiful for having been hard.
Sue Santilhano Blog: