A New Exhibition Showcases How Artists Create Beauty Using Recycled Materials

Larry Mantello, Teapot Camelot, 2020. Courtesy of Foreign and Domestic.

Sometimes things can live forever. Inanimate objects possess the opportunity for immortality as their function continuously changes, and they hold new visual identities. This is evident in I Used to be a Tree, a new group exhibition at Lower East Side gallery  Foreign and Domestic, curated by Greg Carideo. On view now through June 16, the works are made completely out of reused materials. 

Pushing the boundaries between artwork and object, I Used to be a Tree explores the limitless lifeline inanimate objects possess, and the importance they play in the human experience. Larry Mantello’s work transforms tree branches into a glittery home for craft miniature creatures, while John Fleischer’s intertwines old advertisements and magazines with rope and steel wire to create a multidimensional sculpture. This collection of objects each have a unique story to tell about their current state, and past history. 

Featuring thirteen sculptures and installations, the exhibition features works by artists John Fleischer, Yasue Maetake, Larry Mantello, Umico Niwa and Kristin Walsh. Foreign and Domestic opened in July of 2022 by gallerist Alexander Meurice. Meurice describes the display as an “exhibition of voices,” as the artists range from all ages and demographics.

John Fleischer, F33 (The one about the hyper agent and the fool), 2023. Courtesy of Foreign and Domestic.

The fully recycled exhibit is made up of an array of raw materials, with an underlying theme that asks: where do we come from? Does it matter where objects originate if they inevitably hold individual meaning or weight in the life they impact? The history of these items creates an opportunity for transformation; a used motor, seashells, old stockings – each piece tells a story about the past, and the present. These objects change over time as they adapt to the spaces they inhabit. 

That ethos is a metaphor for how we navigate through life. While we change visually over time, our histories remain indelibly connected to who we are in the present. The only difference is humans eventually expire – objects can move well beyond the present, and continue to evolve into the future. In I Used to be a Tree, the artists are behind these transformations – using everyday objects and transforming their identities into exaggerated versions of themselves. 

Yasue Maetake, Enikdu, 2022. Courtesy of Foreign and Domestic.

This process also speaks to the opportunity of sustainability in practice. Putting new life into an existing object will allow for less waste overtime, and creates the neverending possibility for beauty.

“This room is full of objects that possess histories,” said Carideo about the exhibition. “They carry the identities of their parts, yet, through assemblage, convey the hand of their maker. What they share, a feeling of mass aggregation, performs differently throughout the room. Some objects propose a function, while others an escape. All have a sense of purpose.” 

I Used to be a Tree’ is on view now through June 16 at Foreign and Domestic in New York City.