The Creative Potential of Waste

What makes a material become waste? In relation to what?

Reflecting on this question, I realized that a material is considered “waste” always in relation to a certain context, objective, or meaning from which it is excluded. For example, while cooking a recipe you may produce a certain waste food that can still be a useful ingredient for a different recipe, food for animals or raw material for other processes.

Industrial waste is produced in relation to a specific manufacturing process, for making a certain product, and so on. Thus, we could say that the concept of waste is always relative, not absolute, and changes with the perspective from which we consider it.

For example, paper strips – which are a a typical waste of printing works – become a valuable material in my creative workshops.

From the point of view of a creative process, what is commonly considered waste – so not perceived within a predefined framework of meaning – can contribute with a very important quality: the unexpected, the unforeseen that surprises us and opens up possibilities otherwise unimaginable.

Here is an example from my experience. My assistant Esther was born from a folded strip of paper that was “discarded,” left in a corner of my table along with other pieces of paper as scraps from some of my paper explorations. After a while, I accidentally touched it, making it swing, and I started playing with it, fascinated by that movement caused by chance. It seems the stripe was alive… a shape began to define itself in my mind, and I tried to make it visible by scissors: there she was, hello Esther!

I would have never be able to create Esther starting from an intentional process: that random unexpected event was really the core, bringing a fresh perspective on something unfinished and apparently meaningless.
So where does the idea (like the idea of Esther) come from? Does it originate in our thoughts, or was it already present in the material? Is it inside or outside of us? I believe it is just in between: it comes out from the encounter, from the relationship between us and the material – that specific material, with its unique characteristics, observed with openness and curiosity.
What happens if we try recover some scraps from the paper bin with this approach?

Anything can become a new beginning. Unforeseen and indefinable shapes activate the imagination.

For seeing the creative potential of a material (especially if considered “waste”), it is important to decontextualize and placing it in a space that can value it, with a bit of emptiness around for observing its characteristics from different perspectives.

The setting, the arrangement of things, the combinations, the quantity, the space organization are all interconnected elements that influence our perception and interactions.

The care for space and materials is often a recurring quality in such places like reuse and recycling centers, where materials are displayed as precious items.

Something beautiful can’t become waste.

At this point, the risk is of not throwing anything away as garbage anymore… and not to needing to buy so much! Everything can continue to transform, with new functions and new meanings. The concept of waste exists only in our mind, and in fact, in nature, it is not found.

The paper insect friend of mine, which one day jumped out of the paper bin, always reminds me of this: becoming aware of the relativity and the potential of waste material is a revolutionary act.