HSC to host Giant Water Bottle Sculpture Project discussion

Willie cole posingArtist Willie Cole is internationally renowned for his sculptures composed of a wide range of recycled materials, including shoes, guitars and steam irons. His work, which spans prints, drawings and photography, explores social and political matters.

At 8 a.m. on Friday, the New Jersey-born artist will be at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth to kick off the creation of his latest installation piece, which will be made entirely of used plastic water bottles.

“For Us & Earth: Rethinking Plastic” is a reception for Cole — hosted by HSC Sustainability and the School of Public Health — with several speakers, including Cole and Dr. Kari Northeim, a professor in the HSC School of Public Health. Breakfast, which will be zero-waste, plant-based fare, will be catered by HSC alumnus and chef Eboni Dionne of reBirth of Food. The event, located in Room 108 and the first-floor atrium inside the HSC Carl E. Everett Education and Administration Building, is free and open to the public.

“I’m turning waste into beauty, but in general, waste is hiding the beauty,” Cole said. “When the ground is covered with garbage, you can’t see the grass or the flowers. And these bottles are everywhere.”

The Giant Water Bottle Sculpture Project’s goal is to construct a work of art from 20,000 16.9-ounce water bottles that tangibly demonstrates the impact of recycling or, in this case, “artcycling.” The project will raise awareness about plastics in the environment while providing students with an opportunity to learn about careers, college and scholarships.

The sculpture and the collection of bottles is being produced through a partnership between more than a dozen organizations, including the Tarrant County Education Foundation — which spearheaded the project — Fort Worth Independent School District, Arts Fort Worth and HSC. The Giant Water Bottle Sculpture Project is a STEM-focused arts and education initiative with a sustainability focus. The goal is to engage and inspire K-12 students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math in college through art, learning and creativity. Several Fort Worth ISD elementary and middle schools are participating in the project.

“Creating the sculpture out of water bottles is an art-oriented experience that seeks to empower youth creatively,” said Dr. Arlene Barnett, executive director, president and co-founder of the Tarrant County Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards merit- and need-based college scholarships to students in Tarrant County. “The GWBSP is a hands-on art and education project with a sustainability focus that will engage and inspire diverse students.”

Cole made headlines earlier this year with his show “Spirit Catcher and Lumen-less Lantern,” which consisted of two chandelier-like works, each assembled from more than 3,000 used plastic water bottles collected in Newark, where Cole grew up in the 1960s.

For years, Cole has worked with discarded objects such as shoes (his sculpture “Shine,” made from black, high-heeled pumps, is on view in the Metropolitan Museum’s Afrofuturist room) and steam irons. Last year, in New York, he presented a solo show of sculptures made from guitars.

“We are thrilled that the HSC School of Public Health is participating in this vital conversation,” Northeim said. “Single-use plastics are pervasive and have concerning health impacts. It is imperative for all of us to contemplate these health implications and collectively strive for better alternatives and practices. Artcycling is more than creating visually pleasing structures. Through it, we can convey profound messages, educating and inspiring positive change.”

The project will take months to complete, and the end product will be displayed on HSC’s campus in the spring.

For more information about the Giant Water Bottle Sculpture Project, visit www.tcefoundation.org.

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