Not so long ago I was looking around the web for creative people reclaiming and recycling scrap materials for projects, like art or furniture.
When I found this video, I knew straight away that I had to interview this exuberant chap.
Hi there, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Thomas Dambo, I’m a Danish artist and playful mind. I have a big workshop where I collect different scrap, and then use it to build sculptures, scenography, furniture, workshops for kids and what ever else I am inspired me to do.
How long have you been using scrap for art and why is it such a good source for materials?
I have been using scrap my whole life, I always had a lot of big ideas and as a kid with no money and no car, the only way to realize my dreams of building treetop houses, rafts and stuff like that was to scavenge it for free in my neighbourhood and then carry it home. A lot of people have a mental block that tells them that what lies in a container has no value. I learned as a kid that this is not true at all and that I could make all my dreams come true with what I could find. Now I’m 34 and have been scavenging my whole life, so I have gotten really good at it. I can always find every thing I need, just around the corner. In the beginning I thought I was lucky, but after being lucky on a daily basis for many years, I have come to the conclusion that it has nothing to do with luck. It’s just a fact that if you work with trash, it’s free and it’s everywhere, so you don’t need to drive 30 minutes to get it – and that is what I think is so wonderful.
How do you feeling about recycling?
I feel really good when I recycle, because in a way it’s like cleaning up. And when I find a purpose for something that was in a container on its way to a landfill or being burned. It makes me happy that I can extend the life of that something. It makes me so sad when I’m standing in the sandwich store, and the lady gives me a sandwich in a paper bag, and I take the sandwich out of the bag 30 seconds later to throw it out. Then I think about the tree that was cut down just to become a paper bag nobody wanted, and about the people who spend time making the bag. When I recycle stuff I feel like I save it from the land fill.
What is the message behind your art?
The message in my art is, that you can make big and beautiful things from trash – just get started. I like to make positive things like animals and flowers, so people can make positive associations with trash and recycling. There’s so much talk about boring CO2 regulations and dead Polar Bears, I try to make recycling smile and be fun.
How did you come up with the idea for the plastic bottle drawer storage system?
The idea for the drawer storage system, came to me when I found all the plastic bottles, I passed a big 2 meter high metal container on my bike, and like always I had to climb it and see what was inside. Inside was about 80 of these plastic bottles. In Copenhagen a lot of people live in big 5 story red brick buildings, the buildings are laid out in a square with a yard in the middle, about 200 apartments altogether. Often all the apartments share a room with washing machines in the basement, and all the plastic bottles came from the soap. Actually this is a really good system that people all over the world should have, 200 people share 15 washing machines. The benefit is that every body has a high quality washing machine, you don’t need to bother with buying soap, you don’t need to buy a washing machine, there is no noise in your apartment from the centrifuge, there’s no water damage from broken machines. The only bad thing is that you have to walk 1 minute walk to the machines, before you can get started – but that minute is a really good saving if you add it all up.
The flowers you made for TEDx are fantastic, how did this project come about?
Like a lot of times I get my ideas when I find some trash, I like to think O put the design process upside down. Normally when you design, first you get an idea, second you design it and figure out what you need to make it and thirdly, buy what you need and make it. When I design, first I find some trash, secondly figure what is possible to design from that trash and then I design it.
When I made the TEDx flowers I was driving on my bicycle in Copenhagen, and then I saw these constructors putting new water pipes in the ground, and I saw this massive pile of water pipes; every pipe had a yellow lid on it. I thought for sure that all those lids are just gonna be thrown away, so I asked one of the guys what they did with all the lids. He pointed me to a big container where the lids were laying amongst other trash – I then thought wow, these lids are really nice, and brought them back to my workshop. Some weeks later TEDx asked me to do scenography for the stage, and then I thought it could look nice if I made some big flowers and used the yellow lids as leaves. Then I went and found some more plastic around my workshop and neighbourhood.
Where do you usually find your scrap materials?
There is no specific place, but I guess the most specific I can be is to say that I find the trash where I am. Of course sometimes some one tells me about some really nice trash, and then I go on a mission to get it. But there is so much trash everywhere, so its much easier to use what is close to my workshop.
Do you believe more effort should be made to recycle?
Yes, it makes no sense to throw away – away is in our own backyard and if we continue like this one day, the whole world will be a big dump yard and we will have nothing left to throw away. There is so much value in our trash, in Denmark super markets put locks on their bins, because they don’t want dumpster-divers. Jesus, some super markets even pour chlorine over the thrown away goods in their container, just so the dumpster-divers wont eat their garbage, I mean they pour new chlorine over the garbage. That is just crazy. I believe nobody should own their trash, trash should always be recycled if possible.
I know that in Denmark, you have one of the world’s highest incineration rates, how do you feel about recyclable materials being burnt for energy?
I feel really bad when resources are burned, and I hope this will change in the future. If somebody can find a purpose for something, it should not be burned. I mean you can always burn it later, but once you burn something you can never un-burn it. This is the whole essence of the word recycling; when you burn there is no cycle there is only smoke. As I see it one of the major problems is the ownership of the trash, in Denmark we have a lot of recycling facilities, where people go and throw their big trash out, like chairs, televisions and branches from their gardens. But you are not allowed to bring any thing back hole, every thing has to be burned, melted or composted or recycled in other industrial ways. I think this is just sad, and I think that in 99% of cases people buy new stuff when they want something new, not because the stuff they have is broken.
If we can make our garbage system in a way so people can share or swap their old stuff to something “new” when they feel the urge to own something new, we could save the world from so many problems. I know its possible to create a garbage system like this, and I hope I can help create it some day.
Are there are tips or tricks you’d like to add for our readers?
Be proud when you dive into a dumpster – you are a hero!
Oh, and by the way I also have another plastic story. I made this plastic pipe chandelier, it’s made from plastic pipes from the draft beer system at Roskilde festival. The festival sells so much beer so they have big trucks with beer tanks with 10.000 of litres of beer. And then they run these long black hoses from the truck to the draft beer bar. Inside the hoses there are all these small coloured pipes, and last year I was walking at Roskilde festival and I noticed this system, so I asked what they did with the pipes, and they throw them away, so now I have like 6 km of coloured plastic pipe.. so I made some chandeliers like the one in this picture.
If you’d like to see more of Thomas’ work, you can go to his website by clicking this link.