May 20, 2016

Shooting recycle

Contemporary Art

Recycling can be fun. Light-years away from arty rhetoric that transfigures into waste the immoral destiny of a despicable mankind and, more generally, human condition, Belgian photographer Bulteel has chosen to gift us with an optimistic outlook. Waste, when recycled, can bring a new lease of life and astonishing beauty. Just like those copper and oxidised magnesium wires immortalised by Paul Bulteel: piled up in a labyrinth of knots and intersections, they are all deprived of their original – or temporary – function, ready to rediscover their noble nature, embody new meanings and serve fresh purposes.

They are not forsaken, rejected objects, they are rather recycled ones. Including those still-life shots, vividly coloured and vibrant with energy, featured in ‘Cycle & Recycle’, a book that was also recently reviewed by the New Yorker.

Paul Bulteel is a photographer who likes to travel and capture reality as it is, steering away from all sorts of mise en scene. The spectacular collection of images that makes up his book is a journey in the heart of Europe at the discovery of what happens to all the paper, glass, metal, white goods and clothes that we throw away. The destiny of our recycled waste, thanks to Bulteel, can now be visualised in a suggestive kaleidoscope of different shapes and colours that celebrates the beauty of recycling and safeguarding the planet.

His pictures show us green hills made of crushed glass, colourful polyurethane streamers waiting to be turned into sound insulating or wrapping material, a staircase made of electric engines and radiators, humongous lego blocks made of paper packaging for beverages. Objects and materials conceived for everyday use, elevated to a superior dimension after coming back from utter chaos.

Europe is the world’s most virtuous continent and its top recycler too. Bulteel, on his own initiative, has involved 50 companies in Belgium, Holland, France and Germany to celebrate the commitment of those who address and manage the issue of waste disposal in order to protect public health, the environment and mankind as a whole.

Waste materials are part of our everyday life and managing their disposal is our duty, one we must not take lightly. Just think about Belgium, a virtuous country where the 41% of all plastic packagings gets recycled (in Italy it’s the 38,6%) in stark contrast with the US, where only a mere 14% gets reused.

Without a noticeable improvement, the overall weight of plastic materials in the sea will exceed that of fish by 2050. If only some of the examples of good practice shown by Bulteel’s pictures were to be adopted on a global scale, one of the planet’s most crucial environmental issues would become manageable. And the book ends with an incredibly emblematic picture: bullions made with gold obtained from smartphones, circuits and car parts.

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