Artworks made out of trash: the inspired vision of Bordalo II

Provocative plastic-art: recycling with creativity to pass on an important message

14 April 2021

Photo by Austin Novy Chop Em Down — Plastic Whale — French Polynesia

Throw in the word plastic into a conversation and many will admit that dealing with the “plastic crisis” will be one of the main challenges of the XXI century. The safety of our planet needs to be taken seriously and plastic pollution has bounced up — rightly so — the priority list on the global agenda.

The last year certainly didn’t help. The efforts we made vaporized when our whole reality suddenly changed. The Covid-19 pandemic pounced the system in the face causing increased plastic pollution around the world due to the greater demand for personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and also single-use packaging in order to guarantee food safety.

Yet our conscience seems to be in the right place. Increasingly more people are now paying attention to what they buy and how it is packed. There is more sensitivity about the amount of plastic that a household produces and interest towards ways to recycle plastic products and to give them a second life. Yes, will this be enough?

“One person’s rubbish is another’s person’s treasure”. It’s from this belief that Artur Bordalo — aka Bordalo II — decided to use garbage and especially plastic as the raw material for his artwork. Portuguese street artist born in Lisbon 34 years ago, he started dedicating to this new creative experience back in 2013 with the presentation of his first trash-creation in São Miguel, the biggest island in the Portuguese Azores archipelago. A giant crab made of a boat’s carcass and some car parts. Strong and fully originated from human waste, the crustacean seems to be defending himself from the growingly materialistic and greedy generation of men and its excessive production of stuff.

The traditional creative process usually starts with a concept that the artist then shapes into a piece of art. Bordalo II’s approach works in reverse: to him the inspiration to create something comes from the remains of factory production, tyres, ropes, discarded containers and plastic bottles. The aim is to open people’s eyes and raise awareness about the protection of nature, the preservation of species and the defense of our planet. Transformed waste. Rubbish with a new life.

Photo by Bordalo II — Red Squirrel — Dublin

His series of “Big Trash Animals”, representations of animals on a large scale, made him famous internationally, allowing him to bring his art around the world as a big warning that, because of his works’ size, is hard to ignore. From Paris to London, Miami to Tahiti, Las Vegas to Ciudad del Carmen in Mexico, creations built of garbage take up space, made of the same material that kills them.

Cutting, welding, assembling, gluing and painting on such big surfaces allow us to take in the complexity of his work and the physical labor needed to bring to life each and everyone of his artworks.

The best way to admire them is to stand far away and then gradually move closer as we would do with a pointillism painting of Seurat or Signac. To appreciate each component and see how everything is a part of a whole.

The overwhelming majority of studies conducted to date on plastic pollution has focused on marine ecosystems and Bordalo II’s last two works — unveiled in Faro, Portugal, last April 9, 2021 — are an alert for the preservation of seahorses in the coastal lagoon of Ria Formosa, in the Algarve.

He chose to represent two large sculptures of seahorses that are the symbol of the nearby Natural Park and in danger of extinction. In fact, animals at risk of extinction or even already extinct, are some of Bordalo II’s favourite subjects. Provocative, expressive, eye opening.

Photo by Bordalo II — Seahorse — Faro, Portugal

His statement promotes the questioning of what we are doing and where we are going once put in front of a stark representation of our consumption habits.

Hopefully this can make us rethink our lifestyle and seek alternatives for the good of the planet.

If only one species could be extinguished in order to save all the other ones, would we do it? For sure we should as, with the human race extinguished, all the other species at risk would be saved.

God willing it won’t have to come to that.

You can follow Bordalo II’s artwork on his official website and on social media:

Lisbon, Portugal. While I enjoy the great weather and visit amazing beaches, I write articles and translate anything from English and Portuguese to Italian.