What part recycling plays in my creative practice?

Alison Bailey Smith

What part recycling plays in my creative practice?

I started using recycled materials in 1989 in Edinburgh using wire mainly from television sets. When I started there was no kerbside collection and now there is and more opportunities to recycle at specialist sites. In recent years I have started to develop using items that are not as readily recycled locally as metal and have scaled up to making larger works. This has been influenced by tours of local recycling plants.

My company is just me so I use social media to promote requests for items for my art and craftwork & for community projects such as WELLY ROAD GETS THE BOOT IN and ECO ART IN THE PARK. These requests are often shared by others including Wirral Environmental Network, DOES Liverpool, VEOLIA and campaigning groups such as the NEW BRIGHTENERS.

In 1989 I won Scottish Fashion Designer of the Year for an outfit made from television wire - the head judge - Bruce Oldfield could not believe I could make the crown, corset, shoes and cuffs from wire recycled from televisions, but impressed I was able to transform my design on paper to the winning outfit. I won Recycling Fashion Designer of the Year in 1991 and recently was chosen as a wild card entry for #ScrapMerchantsLive sustainable jewellery catwalk show in London and those pieces are currently on show in Pimlico.

In Wirral,  we have low record for kerbside collection and sorted recycled waste and I constantly aim to advocate for reduction, reuse and repair. For three years, I organised an exhibition to promote creative recycling and sustainable practice - twice in Birkenhead Park and the final one in 2013 at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum, encouraging makers - craftspeople and artists to consider using recycled materials and the public to have a go.
I would love to be recognised more widely for my green ethos, not for the scale of my recycling efforts or the longevity of my commitment to working with recycled materials, but for the fact that even in my mid-fifties, I am constantly seeking new materials  that I can reuse and divert from landfill.

My work is definitely a by-product of the 21st century, and I have been described as a "techno-cannibal" by BBC journalist Clare English. My career has spanned over three decades and three different countries since leaving Edinburgh College of Art in 1990. The motivation behind my work comes from being the child of post-war parents, Scottish thriftiness, and an avid watcher of Blue Peter! My need to reuse, redevelop, and recreate can be seen in my use of ordinary materials in my creations.

I ran an Eco Fashion project in 2007 with local sports community organisation the Shaftesbury Youth Club, culminating in a fashion show with the young people modelling their creations compered by John Gorman of Tiswas and Scaffold fame  and this lead to an exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in  Birkenhead.
In 2011, I diverted 500 welly boots from landfill to plant up with the community, creating planters with a local training organisation from recycled pallets for the local shops on "Wellington Road" and each home received a pair of planted wellies, This was featured on Gardeners Question Time on Radio four. https://abscraft.blogspot.com/2011/09/welly-road-gets-boot-in.html

In 2022, I was commissioned to make a public art piece for parks in Wirral to promote pollinators and Wirral Council's No MOW MAY policy, i chose to create 9 plants that grow in Wirral and used drinks cans, plastic tubes, wire, garden hoses and metal from the building trade drawing in support from the local college to well the forms which I then clad in petals and leaves made from "rubbish". Since then I have learnt to weld and hope to use this new skill in further larger scale works. The 9 Giant plants are available to be borrowed by the community for public events and the flowers made from cat food pouches are always a big hit.

In 2022- 23 I was (I AM) one of three people who organised  the inaugural Wirral MakeFest and we chose a theme of sustainability for our event with fifty makers in Science, technology, engineering, arts and Maths  -providing heritage public transport to reduce the need for cars between the venues,  each participant (maker and volunteer) was provided with food diverted from landfill, we reused banners to create handmade banners and frames for social media. We made props that we can use in future years from repurposed offcuts from a local printer. We are now working on a Christmas event and the next annual event in June.

I hope to inspire others, and I know that I do. It might have been an easier route to work with jewelry, stones, or fabric, but to work with "rubbish," I believe, shows genuine inspirational creativity as well as supporting efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle.