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Recycled Materials

A category unto itself, recycled materials in art involve the utilization of discarded or repurposed materials to create artworks. This form of art, known as sustainable art or eco-art, is focused on repurposing waste materials and giving them new life. As the saying goes, one person's trash is another's treasure. This approach entails repurposing and transforming existing objects or materials that might otherwise be regarded as waste, giving them new life as artistic creations. Recycled materials encompass a diverse range of items, including found objects, scrap metal, reclaimed wood, plastic bottles, old textiles, and other materials. Artists who utilize recycled materials often employ techniques such as upcycling, repurposing, and assemblage to transform discarded items into unique and impactful artworks, bringing attention to issues related to the environment such as sustainability, consumption, and nature.

Vik Muniz
Letter Rack Hong Kong (Blue) (Handmade), 2019
Mixed media
76.2 x 55.9 cm (30 x 22 in.)
Courtesy of the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong

Many established artists have used found objects in their work. Vik Muniz is a Brazilian artist famous for his photographs of intricate recreations of iconic paintings made from trash. American artist Robert Rauschenberg is known for his assemblage artworks, which incorporate found objects such as tires, furniture, and even taxidermy animals. His works are often political and social commentaries and have been influential in the development of contemporary art.

Another artist famous for the use of recycled materials is Ai Weiwei, a Chinese contemporary artist and activist. Ai uses materials such as wood, bicycles, and even tea kettles to create thought-provoking installations and sculptures that challenge the status quo. He is also known for his use of Legos in his artwork. For example, his installation, Trace, consisted of over 1.2 million Lego pieces arranged to depict portraits of activists and prisoners of conscience. The Legos used in this installation were donated to Ai by supporters from around the world after the Danish company refused to fulfill a bulk order for the artist. His work often addresses issues such as human rights and freedom of speech.

Installation view of Ai Weiwei: Trace at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C., 2017
Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Photo: Cathy Carver

Related categories


Mixed Media




Contemporary Chinese Art


Kinetic Art

Human Nature/Existence

Human and Nature

Human and Society

Media Study

(Inspired by) Nature





Socio-political Issues

Textile Art

Human Rights

Freedom of Expression

Found Objects

Chinese Culture

Surrounding Environment

Contemporary Chinese Society