Artist Upcycles Trash Dumped at Angkor Into Sculptures

There is a saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. U.S. artist John Melvin is proof of that. His latest installation makes use of some of the thousands of plastic bottles discarded each day by those living and playing in Siem Reap City.

He gathered about 8,000 empty plastic bottles—the number he estimates are tossed out in Siem Reap City each day by residents and tourists visiting Angkor Archaeological Park—and created a large art installation called “Curbing Entropy.”

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An art installation made of recycled trash by U.S. artist John Melvin being exhibited in Siem Reap (John Melvin)

“My work is about nature and cultures’ relationship to nature,” the 40-year-old artist said on Monday.

Assembling those bottles in the main exhibition hall at the 1961 Art Space in Siem Reap City was quite a feat. To get the materials for his project, the artist worked with several recycling NGOs in Siem Reap.

“There’s a whole economics of plastic recycling in Siem Reap and most of Cambodia,” he said. “So I didn’t really go on the street because I didn’t want to impact the income of very poor Cambodians who collect bottles from the street.”

Instead, he went to points where plastic bottles are sold by street collectors and bought the bottles from them. He also purchased discarded, misshapen bottles that are of no use to water bottlers or street collectors from plastic bottle manufacturers.

Transforming the bottles into a vast sculpture lit from within took three weeks. The result is an ethereal artwork that floats throughout the room, demonstrating that discarded goods can be beautiful.

“The 21th century paradox is that ecology is an inclusive term: The good, the bad and the ugly are equal parts,” wrote Mr. Melvin in an exhibition note.

Mr. Melvin has exhibited in the U.S. as well as in Scotland, France, Italy, Greece and Ukraine. He has been a frequent visitor to Cambodia since 2010.

The exhibition runs through April 30.

“Curbing Entropy”

Where: The 1961 Coworking and Art Space, 211 Osaphear St., Upper West River Side, Siem Reap

When: 7 p.m., Sunday opening

Free admission

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