Ephemeral art installations from trash: how to make the invisible visible

Posted on 09 June 2020.

In Mexico, Alejandro Durán creates in situ artworks from trash collected in the Sian Ka'an reserve. He reuses his waste over and over again, and holds workshops to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

Alejandro and the people working with him on the project have identified waste from close to sixty different countries on every continent.

Located on the east coast of Yucatán, in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, the Sian Ka'an Nature Reserve has been recognized as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO and is on the World Heritage List. But unfortunately, this earthly paradise has not been spared the deleterious effects of our consumer society and disposable culture.

Thousands of pieces of plastic debris from the four corners of the globe wash up there, degrading a landscape of breathtaking beauty. This waste is the raw material for the ephemeral installations created by the Mexican artist Alejandro Durán, in which he tries to "depict the reality of what is happening with our environment and make the invisible visible".

It all began in 2010, when Alejandro Durán visited Sian Ka'an for the first time. He was horrified to discover that the beach he was standing on was covered in plastic debris.

Amongst all the garbage, he noticed that blue predominated. He decided to collect some of the waste in different shades of blue, organized it and took pictures against the backdrop of the azure sky and the Caribbean Sea. When he stood back and looked at the result he had a revelation: he had to come back to Sian Ka'an to create and photograph new compositions. It was the birth of his Washed Up series - he collects and organizes hundreds of pieces of waste by color to create in situ works.


Globalization of waste

Alejandro Durán and the people who work with him on the project have identified waste from close to sixty countries: butter cans from Haiti, water bottles from Jamaica, shampoo bottles from South Korea, bleach from Costa Rica, toilet products from Norway... One day, Alejandro even found a prosthetic leg!

Very quickly, the artist wondered what to do with the waste once he had finished his installations? Too degraded, they probably couldn't be recycled. Landfill was of course not a satisfactory solution. So he decided to keep it, recycling it endlessly into new artworks and using it in art workshops for local people. Alejandro Durán has launched several community art projects which revolve around beach clean-ups and awareness raising programs. 

As his waste collection grows, his work evolves. In his latest installations, for example, the artist blends photography and sculpture to create living, three-dimensional artworks that transform themselves over time. He now wants to create works on a larger scale