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Niklavs Rubenis: Crafting Waste

Wendy Johnson

When Canberra’s Niklavs Rubenis pokes his head into big waste bins and finds discarded plastic milk cartons, a smile crosses his face.

Not because Niklavs particularly likes picking through domestic waste, but he does like finding material he can use to make anew.

Niklavs has radically changed the way he designs by applying his talent and training to found materials to create something beautiful, in a mindful way.

“I start at the end and work in reverse to create meaning and new value,” says the local designer-maker. “I’m trying to work in a more responsible and aware manner because there’s already too much “stuff” in the world.”

So what does Niklavs make out of the rows and rows of neatly stacked plastic milk cartons and tins he has collected and shelved in his studio? You’ll see examples in the Crafting Waste exhibition now on at Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre. They make you think twice, and hard, about waste, which is something Niklavs wants us to do.

The name Crafting Waste says it all.

“The exhibit is about repairing and conserving and paying more respect to using finite resources,” says Niklavs. “The world is consuming itself, and fast,” he says. “As a designer, I had to ask whether I need to buy new materials to create with, or whether there’s another way.”

It takes more thought, skills and innovation to use existing materials but Crafting Waste proves it can be done without compromising on aesthetics. The functional lighting Niklavs designs and creates out of milk cartons and tin cans is inspiring. The milk bottles have been dismantled flat, laser-cut into a zig-zag pattern and attached to tin cans, such as those that used to hold tomatoes from Italy.

Crafting Waste also showcases furniture Niklavs has created, including a head-turning, functional bench seat constructed of wood from old floorboards and a bookcase warped and split from rain. He’s layered the wood over an old rusted metal bench frame he found one day on the side of the road and made a complementary side table.

Niklavs Rubenis

Artist Niklavs Rubenis

The two beautiful ottomans that are showcased in Crafting Waste, are made of clothing, mittens and fabric grocery bags—items that couldn’t even be donated to charity because they were too worn out. Instead of being tossed, the items have been solidified together using only rope.

Although Niklavs, a lecturer at the School of Art at the Australian National University, has been professionally employed across many aspects of furniture and design, he sees Crafting Waste as an important project.

“I’m driven by design and am interested in the broad impact it has on our community,” he says. “The ways of thinking in the 19th century and 20th century don’t apply today. We need to come up with new ways of working, new ways of thinking and new ways of interacting with the world.”

Another Craft ACT exhibition, on at the same time, is Aesthetics in the Time of Emergency, a new body of work by five Melbourne glass-based artists who have each created a unique work around environmental issues that require our attention, such as climate change and nuclear disasters.

Rachael Coghlan, Craft ACT’s new Chief Executive Officer, says it’s fascinating to see a new wave of practitioners in Australia using craft to make strong statements on contemporary issues.

“Australia’s contemporary craft culture is transforming, responding to and embracing our social responsibilities,” says Rachael, who brings more than 20 years’ experience working in national cultural institutions to her new role. “The artists featured in our new exhibition have created beautiful works, applying their skills and using materials to tell stories and engage us in a conversation about the world we want to live in.”

Niklavs and the five Melbourne glass artists do just that.

the essentials 

What: Crafting Waste by Niklavs Rubenis
Where: Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre, Level 1 North Building/180 London Circuit, Civic
When: The exhibitions run from 27 May to 9 July at .
Tickets: The exhibition is free to the public.

All images supplied

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author

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