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REBIRTH OF VENUS

In 2018, under the dubious moniker of the “rubbish dump of the world”, Thailand accepted over 552 million metric tons of domestic waste from other countries, mainly from Europe, the US and Japan. The waste was either dumped, incinerated or melted down, often without adequate regulations, at newly built recycling centres which leach poison into the local environment.

Over the last five years, Thailand has been steadily trying to grapple with its waste issue, rolling out a new scheme at the start of the year which set out to completely ban imports of plastic scraps by 2025. While the number of imports has decreased by 88% since its zenith in 2018, the plastic ban won’t impact locals for decades, as new recycling centres continue to open. As long as consumer goods companies keep selling single-use plastic without taking responsibility for the cost or means of its disposal, the waste will be passed onto someone else.

Using salvaged materials from his previous projects and surroundings, Bangkok-based designer Eric Tobua constructs monumental sets, props and garments from the detritus of millions of households’ shopping, cooking, eating and buying. From a towering headdress made from more than 100 watch faces adorned with delicate flowers, to sweeping batwings built from plastic bags, and a top fashioned from motorbike wing mirrors picked up from a flea market, the artist’s work comments on the transformative nature of plastic. The very plasticity of the material is what creates the problem in the first place, but it’s perhaps also the source of its  repair. As ever, change depends on adapting the systems by which a thing is imbued with meaning. “I want to increase the value of recycled materials,”says Tobua. “My work proves that trash can also become art.” ◉

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Paepailin wears a mermaid tail fashioned from cans, plastic bag shreds and dried palm leaves. Her bra is made from seashells, string and tin cans, with nail art using discarded cigarette butts.

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Mbuyi wears a bra top and skirt made from metal rings and discarded Coke cans from drinks consumed by Tobua in his studio.

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Thanuwat wears a skirt made from butterfly wing-shaped party balloons that Tobua rescued from a friend’s birthday party. Their top is made from disused motorcycle mirrors, held together with fairy lights and foil fringe.

 

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Kunnalin wears bat wings made from clear plastic bags, masking tape and newspaper, held with wire scaffolding and lacquered in black paint. Her dress is also made from painted plastic bags, held in place by sellotape and black ribbon.

 

 

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Sasiyada wears a dress made of used plastic bags, adorned with a heart-shaped frame salvaged from a broken mirror. Chocolate wrappers decorate her face and hair. The surrounding set is made from vintage lace curtains, blankets, and repurposed black velvet ribbons.

This look is made from linoleum  floor. The broken umbrella, chairs and fan were found on the shoot’s location, a parking lot. The dress is constituted from old blankets and the net bags that onions are sold in, brought together in a set that takes inspiration from the market stalls along the streets of Bangkok.

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Set design: Eric Tobua / Hair: Panithan S. / Make-up: Sireethon Pattiyatanee / Casting: Kunnalin Satearrujikanon / Photography assistant: Maxine Stiller / Set-design assistant: Sukrit Seesujan / Models: Paepailin Chinnarat, Mbuyi Tshibangu, Thanuwat Witchanon, Kunnalin Satearrujikanon and Sasiyada Chanpattana. Thanks to Viluxsaya Boonjongrux and Supakorn Nataveesap