Legacy Maker

Creative ways with waste

Michelle Reader, Nottingham, England

One man’s waste is another man’s treasure – or in Michelle Reader’s case, another woman’s artistic supplies. The innovative, Nottingham-based sculptor quite literally moulds exhibits from garbage, creating beautiful pieces that also prompt debate about how and why we throw things away.

“I studied fine art in Leicester, and I got into using unusual materials,” says Michelle, 43. “I used things like resin, but I didn’t like the fact they were toxic. I started to think about materials that would have less of an impact environmentally.” She initially “tinkered with tin cans, bits and bobs basically” – but soon began to scale up her projects. It’s been a fascinating journey. “In 2000, I worked at Leicester’s recycling centres – I basically went to the local household waste sites and was an artist in residence,” she recalls. “I made sculptures from some of the interesting things that got left behind. I think the staff found it quite interesting!”

“It’s always a challenge”

“From there, I’ve been employed to do all kinds of campaigns. I did a sculpture for a major media company, using their waste material. I went to their big recycling depot and picked out satellite dishes, cables and remote controls, and made a jaguar. And I did a campaign across eight UK shopping centres. I made a figure sculpture at each, using whatever materials I found on site. They were related to the people at each mall – one was a market trader, another was a mum with her kids.” Part of Michelle’s joy in these projects is never quite knowing what you’re going to be working with. “That’s the fun part,” she says. “It’s always a challenge. The materials are always relevant to the client.”

“I love creating things that connect with people”

Michelle runs educational workshops alongside her exhibitions, and the attendees often help her finish off an installation. She says: “The central message is to think about what we throw away differently. I want people to consider where it comes from, why it is considered waste, when it can be a resource. We need to get people thinking about the quantity of waste we produce, and how to cut down or reuse it. I love creating things that connect with people, and passing on those skills, too. And it’s a lot of fun. When you’re in the zone, time flies – it’s a bit like being a musician, everything flows.”

Photography by Francesca Jones