Photo by Dylan Griffin
When Miwa Koizumi graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and migrated to New York City, she made the unpleasant discovery most art-school grads make. “You leave school and realize, ‘Oh my god, I have to pay for studios, materials, everything!’” says the 38-year-old. But in a city where scarcity is the rule, one thing is in abundance—piles of curbside trash.
The New York City Department of Sanitation estimates that 25,000 tons of refuse are collected daily. “I’m just so amazed by the quantity of garbage in New York City,” she says.
A large portion of that garbage is plastic bottles, of which Americans only recycle 23 percent. “To sell liquid, you need a container, and when you’re finished drinking, it becomes trash,” says the Japanese artist. The bottles move from store refrigerators to people’s hands to the trash.
And from the trash, into Koizumi’s studio. Inspired by aquatic animal exhibits she’d seen at zoos and aquariums, Koizumi began shaping bottles into the gorgeous and ethereal forms of jellyfish and anemone, giving them a second life as animals that live in liquid. “Sea creatures and bottles are both related to liquid and water,” she explains, and her resultant creations are indeed reminiscent of both, with bottle-bottoms artfully transformed into convincing jellyfish noggins. Though frozen in space, each “animal” is unmistakably in motion, traveling through unseen water by means of unfurling tentacles and flowing tendrils.
Koizumi refers collectively to her aquatic creatures as the PET project, a play on the word for domestic animal and polyethylene or PET, which is what most drinking bottles are made out of. She now has countless floating sea creatures hanging in galleries and museums: from the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City to Discovery World, a science museum in Milwaukee. But she doesn’t quite consider it recycling: “Everyone says recycling, but it’s more about cycling,” she says. “You have to think about how the whole world is moving.”