Writer Joseph J. Airdo

Photography Courtesy of Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]cottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s latest exhibition is comprised of objects made out of materials that may surprise you.

Through May 17, museum visitors can stroll through a collection of building materials, home furnishings and fashion accessories that have been transfigured from waste. Sources include polluted air, land and water; the byproducts of manufacturing, mining, agriculture and aquaculture; and even food and human waste.

“I think that people would be surprised to learn what the materials are because the objects are interesting in their own right,” says Jennifer McCabe, director and chief curator of the museum. “What the materials are just adds another layer. I hope that people’s curiosity will be sparked and that they may see design and waste in a different way.”

Design Transfigured/Waste Reimagined aims to provide Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s visitors with new ways of thinking about design, the life of products and how everything becomes a form of refuse. It is the first exhibition to recognize designers using extreme and inventive upcycling to address the current state of our depleted and polluted environment.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is the second institution to show the traveling exhibition’s works since they debuted last year at Maria and Alberto de la Cruz Art Gallery at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 

The exhibition features the works of 30 international designers and studios—from Asia, Latin America and Europe—who are pioneering a new direction in design by radically transforming waste into useful products in order to reduce our footprint on the earth.

“These are designers who are thinking about how to use waste in new ways so that we can recoup the damages that we are doing, especially as it relates to industry and all of the waste that is produced from that,” McCabe says. “I am always interested in artists who are thinking really smartly about materials. And these artists are pushing the limits of what we consider to be material.”

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art’s assistant curator Lauren R. O’Connell says that the labs and studios whose objects are on display in the exhibition are making bold moves to rethink the life of a product and its material.

She adds that each object featured in the exhibition has been revived and refreshed. Therefore, while the materials may at first sound a bit shocking, nothing in the gallery is toxic or harmful.

“In fact, some of the designers are also making billboards that clean polluted air,” O’Connell notes. “The material that they are using actually takes pollutants out of the air. So it is not only a revitalization and refreshing of the pollutants but also a cleaning of our natural resources so that we can better our environment.”

Ginger Gregg Duggan and Judith Hoos Fox of c2-curatorsquared curated Design Transfigured/Waste Reimagined in an effort to make a difference in a world in which our waste is overtaking our natural resources.

“In the face of climate change, the more creative minds behind solutions, the better,” they said in a joint statement, adding that the designs featured in the exhibition are both conceptual approaches as well as potential and/or actual products ready for the market.

Fashion accessories that will be on display in the exhibit include coats, shoes and even a ring that was made from condensing a large amount of smog into one cube. Building materials include ceramic tiles that have been colored with metal waste that give them surprisingly beautiful color and texture.

One of O’Connell’s favorite objects in the exhibition is a home furnishing item created by Swedish designer Jesper Eriksson.

“We all recognize and understand that coal is a material that we burn to create energy,” O’Connell says. “But it is also a very big pollutant to our environment. Jesper Eriksson has taken coal and designed these solid, grid-like tables from it. He has taken a material that we understand to be a dirty pollutant and used it to make a beautiful object.”

McCabe is especially drawn to textiles that have been reimagined as a 3D-woven bench that essentially flips the fashion industry waste on its head.

“They are decorative rather than something that you would wear,” says McCabe, noting that the entire gallery has the distinct feel of a design show.

O’Connell notes that many of the designers whose works are featured in Design Transfigured/Waste Reimagined are recent graduates or faculty of design academies and universities.

“They do not necessarily have a lot of platforms to share their discoveries,” she adds. “Contemporary art museums are the perfect places to show these objects. They are spaces for conversations—especially about things that are still somewhat experimental.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art will also present a series of programs Feb. 13–17 through a collaboration with the Center for Philosophical Technologies—a strategic initiative of Arizona State University and a global hub for critical and speculative research on philosophy, technology and design.

Dubbed “Design Reboot: An International Conversation on Design Rehabilitation,” the weeklong event includes public talks, student workshops and networking events featuring six of the exhibition’s international designers.

Among the public talks is a Feb. 15 event that Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has titled “Waste Not: Sustainable Approaches to Design,” during which the designers will discuss innovative approaches that address diminishing natural resources.

On Feb. 17, the discussion will move to Arizona State University for “Alchemical Design: Reimagining Sustainability”—a public talk focusing on the scientific complexities of sustainable design.

O’Connell hopes that by bringing Design Transfigured/Waste Reimagined to Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, the institution will be opening a dialogue between the international designers whose objects are featured in the exhibition with the innovative designers and thinkers here in the Valley.

“We buy products and we use them,” O’Connell says. “Then we throw them away and we do not know where they go. So I would really love for people were to come see how beautiful waste can be once it is turned into design but also think about a product’s life—from its creation to its use to its disposal.”


Design Transfigured/Waste Reimagined

Feb. 1–May 17 | See website for hours | Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art | 7374 E. 2nd St., Scottsdale | $10 | 480-874-4666 | smoca.org