UpCycling exhibition displays waste transformed into art

Ayden Bremner visit the opening of the Upcycling exhibition at SF State on Thursday, April 4, 2013.  Upcycling features recycled fabrics and materials made into clothes and furniture. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress
Ayden Bremner visits the opening of the Upcycling exhibition at SF State on Thursday, April 4, 2013. Upcycling features recycled fabrics and materials made into clothes and furniture. Photo by Samantha Benedict / Xpress

Tablecloths as dresses, wire hangers as a lighting fixture and leftover scraps of lumber used to build a stool may look like ordinary do-it-yourself projects, but together they make up SF State’s latest exhibition working to inspire students to partake in a new trend of recycling — upcycling.

Upcycling is a term used to describe the process of taking a material item and instead of throwing it away, recreating it and giving it a new life.

Connie Ulasewicz, SF State design and merchandising professor, teamed up with the Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery and other instructors in the consumer & family studies/dietetics, apparel design and merchandising and interior design programs to lead their students in an upcycling themed exhibit. Students took items that are usually identified as waste and used them to make clothes, furniture and other accessories for display in the gallery.

“I hope the show (UpCycling exhibition) pulls in conservation awareness and a compassion for the environment having students pass it down to their children’s children,” said Carolyn Ho, Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery director. “Hopefully with the information from the exhibition, you go home and are inspired to make something.”

UpCycling: Transforming Old into New through Apparel and Furniture Design,” the current exhibition located at the Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery, was a collaboration that formed when Ho called Ulasewicz to apologize for dropping a mannequin she borrowed for another exhibition. Ulasewicz reassured her it was fine, all the mannequins she used had been upcycled. Students who work out in the retail field had given them to her before they were thrown out.

Gus Vouchilas, an assistant professor in the consumer & family studies/dietetics department, got his students involved when he assigned a project for them to design a kiosk based on the biomimetic principle of replicating and mimicking life.

“The students came up with their own ideas and everything here is made of upcycled materials,” Vouchilas said. “We get the message out of repurposing, redesigning and what we call upcycling to recreate new products and to keep things out of landfills as much as possible, but also bring life to something to make it meaningful again.”

Vouchilas’ student Jenny Russell, a 22-year-old interior design major, participated by creating her own stool, the start to a complete wine bar set. What makes Russell’s stool unique is the fact that it is made of all upcycled wood.

“I hope to use upcycling as my art outlet and build more of these; they’re fun, easy and practically free,” Russell said.

The exhibition gallery showcases not only the beauty that can be made through upcycling discarded items, but shows students the importance of reusing salvageable items and reducing raw materials to help build a sustainable environment.

“We don’t really think about our landfills but they’re filling up, they’re limited,” liberal studies major Ayden Bremner said. “We just have to start thinking to buy less crap, buy just what we need and recycle what we need.”

The exhibition participants want people to ultimately utilize the exhibit as a model of inspiration to raise awareness for textile recycling, and for students to do something to help our world.

“In San Francisco there is a bin for plastic, for bottles for cans and for newspaper. Is there a bin for textiles? No, it’s an undervalued commodity,” Ulasewicz said. “This is more than a gallery, it’s an experience. I hope they’re inspired to do something on their own and share it with other people, we’re all a part of the problem and the solution.”

The UpCycling exhibition is open until April 22, 2013 at the Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery.