Refashioning what looks like trash into works of art

For an entire school year they kept all their rubbish in the classroom. They separated the piles of empty soda cans, bottles, bottle tops, cardboard egg cartons, old clothes, drapes, plastic bags and all sorts of packaging based on the material it was made of. Then, in art class, they exchanged garbage. Armed with their imaginations, the 148 pupils of the Art Junior High School at Gerakas, northeast of Athens, found new uses for old, apparently useless objects. They created installations – both useful and decorative, models and costumes for school plays. Their work, on display in «Art in Recycling and the Reuse of Materials» at the the Melina Cultural Center in Thiseion, offers a lesson in environmental awareness to both young and old. The exhibition is part of the 8th Ecofestival, organized by the Ellada Kathari (Clean Greece) environmental organization. We met them on the eve of the exhibition, in the schoolroom where their works were temporarily kept. «There are more than 500 of them. This is just a small sample,» said their teacher, Marina Maravellaki. «At first the idea put the children off. ‘Are we going to work with trash?’ they asked. But eventually they amazed us.» The young artists talked about their works and the results of their collective effort with enthusiasm, enjoying the look of surprise on my face as they revealed what materials they had used to make them. They made theater masks with feathers from dusters, wedding favors and collars from old shirts. They used shoe boxes, egg cartons, toothpicks, bits of sacking and old toys to construct a whole city of dollhouses. Elli made a little window box from an old car cassette player and planted it with aluminum foil flowers. Vassilis, Doria and Vassia brightened up a dilapidated school desk with a multicolored mosaic of tiles they found on building sites. Elpida designed a children’s playground of straws, yogurt tubs, paper plates, film containers, plastic bags and phone cards. «I hope the exhibition will make people understand that even the most useless things can be useful. After all, recycling is not a science; it’s a way of life that concerns us all. It protects the environment, helps save energy and it is a sign of civilization,» said Vassiliki, a pupil in the first year of junior high. Most of the children knew something about recycling and reusing materials before the project but, they admitted, it was more in theory than in practice. «Now we’ve really learned about it properly. And we can explain to a friend, a parent or a neighbor,» they said. Their sharp observations would make many an adult blush. «Some people not only don’t recycle, but they leave their trash outside the bins because they are too lazy to lift the lid. And not all municipalities in Athens have garbage collection bins, to say nothing of the provinces, where the situation is much worse. We must all make an effort to change our habits. It isn’t as difficult as we think.» Till June 5 at the Melina Cultural Center, 66 Irakleidon & Thessalonikis, Thiseion, tel 210.345.2150. (1) This article first appeared in the May 28 edition of K, Kathimerini’s color supplement.

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