With the Dapao culture (takeaway) on the rise, the inevitable plastic waste problem haunts us more than ever. As some are doing their part to offer plastic alternatives or introduce more recycling methods, etc., the Malaysian is turning the crisis into an educational opportunity.
“We decided to create awareness by making sculptures out of discarded plastic food containers while showing people that the material is worth a second life,” Oscar Lee, one of the artists behind Co2, told the Vulcan Post with.
Co2 is an art project that recycles waste into sculptures. They are currently working on a project called Hutan Tutan, which is showing plastic sculptures of endangered animals in Malaysia.
Oscar turns trash into something useful / Image source: Co2
From architecture to sculpture
In addition to Oscar, his partner Celine is also part of the Co2 team, which was founded in 2017. They met at Taylor’s Lakeside and both graduated in architectural design. From now on they are based in Muar.
Oscar was never a sculptor himself, but he built many models at the university back then. "I would say that when I was a child I was inspired by a TV show called 'Art Attack' and with my mother's company I always managed to do handicrafts or sculptures with her."
Before Hutan Tutan, the very first project the duo got into was Eyes of the Guardian, an art installation made from discarded shuttlecocks and aluminum cans.
The shuttlecocks that created this terrifying beast / Image Credit: Co2
Hutan Tutan is a project that is dedicated to raising awareness of endangered animals in Malaysia through 10 different animal sculptures. Each sculpture is set up in a primary school in different Johor districts.
These animal sculptures will be colorless and transparent, and Oscar explained that this idea is a metaphor for endangered species that leave their skin or shell, which is usually transparent.
“Just like a cicada or snake that molts, endangered species only leave their skin behind before disappearing. We know there was a cicada because we discovered its skin, but that also shows that we know it is no longer there. "
Because they are raising awareness in schools, Oscar and Celine have teamed up with an ecology teacher who will be giving lectures on endangered species and protecting the environment when they go to school.
Elementary schools were chosen because young children are very receptive to this knowledge and have an affection for animals and wildlife, something Oscar himself experienced as a child.
Do you know your wildlife well enough to name this animal? / Photo credit: Co2
Actively looking for plastic waste
In order to make sculptures as big as them, huge amounts of plastic have to be procured, and the duo are currently outsourcing this from the local community in Muar.
They shared their studio address publicly so people could drop their plastic containers at their gate, which the two of them would then wash and let dry in the sun before using them on the sculptures.
“At the moment we are only asking the people in Muar for help, because the first animal will be placed in one of the primary schools in Muar, where I live. Another reason we chose Muar as the location for our first sculpture is that we couldn't cross borders, so it's easier to start here first, ”explained Oscar.
Speaking of which, the first sculpture will be the Malay tapir, which is 1m high and 2m long. The tapir is already 85% complete and has used 280 pieces of plastic so far, but another 70 pieces will be needed to complete it.
Working with your regular Dapao containers / Photo credit: Co2
Breathe life into waste
After the tapir, the two announced that they had seen the Malay tiger, the Asian elephant, the Bornean orangutan, the sun bear, the gaur, the proboscis monkey, the Sumatran rhino (already extinct), the black leopard and the Siamang ( the largest of the gibbons).
The Johoric districts where these sculptures are to be placed are Batu Pahat, Mersing, Tangkak, Kota Tinggi, Johor Bahru, Kulai, Kluang, Pontian, and Segamat. For the sake of simplicity, the plastic waste for the sculpture in each district is obtained from the local community and the sculpture is also made there.
"For this entire project, we estimate that around 4,750 plastic parts will be saved," Oscar told Vulcan Post.
All of the plastic waste donated to them is used in the sculptures, and they emphasized that even if there are plastics that are not suitable for a sculpture, they will keep them for future potential projects or as packaging for theirs to come.
A plastic project they did previously to sculpt villains / Image source: Co2
They are not even aware of your subjects
As none of them had seen one of these animals in person, brainstorming was a struggle for them as they can only imagine them from the Internet. So Oscar and Celine have to painstakingly study their anatomy through documentation in order to accurately capture their figures.
In addition, working with plastic is not easy, especially when dealing with stubborn food debris such as oils that are difficult to wash off, as well as the smell of plastic that has been burned while modeling with a heat gun. To help with this, they wear a gas mask and make sure the room is properly ventilated while they are at it.
The cost of running Co2 is not a major issue as most of the raw materials required ultimately come from crowdsourcing. What Oscar and Celine struggle with, however, is the time when they have their own jobs and can only work on the project on the side. To add, it's not something they monetize.
“This project will take at least a year to complete. After that, we plan to do something related to our marine pollution or marine life. I'll also research new materials, plastic or not, and see how it goes, ”Oscar said.
The only real animals they have / Photo credit: Co2
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The idea of making something new out of waste has been around for some time, including in Malaysia. For example, one duo that has turned trash into robot toy masterpieces is IBFCM.
Many sculptors and artists overseas have tried to give plastic waste a second life. Oscar and Celine don't seem to have any plans to monetize their hobby right now, but if they wanted they could likely appeal to niche art collectors.
If their idea gains momentum and attention, perhaps they could work on paid projects with schools to bring CO2 to the rest of Malaysia for the benefit of children's education. With Co2 you have to be careful how the sculptures will be handled and disposed of in the future.
There will likely come a day when schools no longer want to keep them and they are too out of shape to continue fixing them. Co2 would then have to work with the schools to recycle the waste or reuse it for another project. Either way, it shouldn't just be pollution again.
- You can learn more about Co2. Experienced here.
- You can read about other eco-friendly initiatives we've written here.
Featured image source: Oscar and Celine, Co2 founders and sculptors