Public Art looks at textiles’ pollution | Arts & Entertainment

Scottsdale Public Art is drawing attention to the worldwide environmental crisis involving excess waste generated by the fast fashion industry with its latest exhibit, “Diversion: Recycled Textiles to Art.” 

The exhibit features work utilizing recycled fibers and textiles from discarded clothing and artists from around the state are represented. 

“I’ve been a Scottsdale shopper forever but when I found about the vast amount of textile waste that ends up in landfills, I researched this,” recalled Wendy Raisanen, curator of exhibitions and collections at Scottsdale Public Art. 

Raisanen was shocked to discover how much pollution is caused by discarded textiles that either rot in landfills or are incinerated, particularly items made from polyester. 

“Oil turns into polyester – which is everything – and then it turns into clothes. Companies try to sell it and it doesn’t sell, so it gets bailed up,” Raisanen explained. “Then when it doesn’t get re-bought, it goes right into the incinerator.” 

Textile Exchange is a global nonprofit driving positive action on climate change across the fashion, textile and apparel industry.

Polyester accounts for over half of the global fiber market, according to its 2021 Preferred Fiber Materials Market Report. 

The nonprofit attributes the high usage of polyester to its strong, durable, crease-resistant and quick-to-dry material. Polyester comprises about 80{5e37bb13eee9fcae577c356a6edbd948fa817adb745f8ff03ff00bd2962a045d} of all synthetic fiber use in in clothing, accessories, home furnishings and footwear.

Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester fiber supply and one fiber takes over 200 years to breakdown. 

Alarmed by these statistics, Raisanen said she asked herself, “How can we invite artists to make artwork out of discarded textiles while also calling attention to this situation?”

She decided to ask artists to hunt down textiles that would normally be disposed and create artwork out of them. 

A slew of local artists produced nearly 40 pieces.

“These Arizona artists are resourceful and have found ways to use old clothes, bed sheets, upholstery samples, and castoffs to create very interesting works of art,” she said.

Among the submissions were quilts, sculptures and fabric art.

One standout is “Mother Comforts” by Jill Friedberg, which features a rotted jacket that looks like an aged piece of metropolitan architecture on one side and a mossy landscape on the other. 

“It’s actually made using a bathrobe that her mother had and then she applied paints and other materials onto it,” Raisanen explained about the piece. “It’s a sculptural piece but you can tell that it was made for a person.” 

Other notable works include a quilt created by up-and-coming textiles and second-hand fabric artist Bethany Larson, who expressed a genuine passion for the cause with her work. 

“We are so fortunate to have so many different fabrics and dyes readily available for use, yet the more we are surrounded by textiles, the more invisible they become,” Larson said. 

The exhibition contains eye-popping works, but Raisanen hopes they generate conversations that deepen and broaden awareness of the problem.

She said the artists “were just shocked at the numbers and the volume of pollution it causes.” 

In addition to starting a conversation, Raisanen also hopes the works inspire people to change their shopping habits. 

“It’s a hard habit to break, especially since our clothes are a part of our personality, but it’s something to really consider,” she said. “Being in Scottsdale, we all love to shop.

“But maybe we can consider shopping for pieces that will keep for more than seven wears and shop for classics that will last a long time.”

If You Go:

Diversion: Recycled Textiles to Art

When: Through June 30 

Where: Civic Center Public Gallery at Scottsdale Civic Center Library, 3839 N. Drinkwater Drive, Scottsdale.

Cost: Free.


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