Industrial designer becomes world renown jewelry artist tackling plastic waste

On a summer day with my family at a country house, I saw how many plastic bottles accumulated around us. We did not have collection trucks passing by like they do in the city. In just one week with five people, I felt stunned by the number of bottles we accumulated. I started working with the material immediately.

  • 1 year ago
  • April 1, 2023
8 min read
Interview Subject
Fabiana Gadano was born in Argentina in 1963. She earned degrees in Industrial Design (UNLP) and Arts Curatorship (UNA). Her interest in experimenting with non-traditional jewelry materials and her concern for the irresponsible disposal of plastics prompted her research into PET plastic as an expressive material. She participated in numerous exhibitions in her country and abroad. She received mentions from the Fondazione Cominelli in Italy and also exhibited twice at LOOT: MAD about jewelry, NY Museum of Art and Design, USA. She is a workshop teacher at her own school and an Associate Professor in the subject of Jewelry Design in the Graduate Program for Garment Design at the National University of La Plata. She also develops curatorship and jury tasks for the Joyeros Argentinos collective.
Background Information
The largest garbage island in the world can be found in the Pacific Ocean. In a new investigation published by the journal Nature, they exposed that the gigantic island of garbage floating in the water extends in alarming numbers, 1.6 million km2, that is, three times the size of France. There is talk of an increase sixteen times greater than previous studies, an alarming and worrying growth. It is estimated, in turn, that it contains around 80,000 tons of plastic. Thus, the so-called garbage island represents one of the largest concentrations of plastic of a magnitude ever recorded. However, the garbage island in the Pacific Ocean is not the only garbage island that exists, although it was the first that we know of. Located in the North Pacific, a large patch of plastic garbage was discovered in 1997 by the American oceanographer Charles Moore. In successive years other garbage islands have been discovered: the North Atlantic (2009), the Indian (2010), and the South Pacific (2011). Finally, 20 years after the first garbage island was discovered, in 2017, the existence of the last one was confirmed, in the South Atlantic.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina ꟷ I exhibit my pieces in museums around the world, featuring an artform few master. I recycle plastic bottles and transform them into luxury brooches, necklaces, and earrings. When I exhibited my first collection called Natura at the Museum of Design Art in New York, visits appeared afraid to touch them. They worried about breaking the pieces, thinking I made them from glass. I had to create a sign clarifying the material as recycled plastic mineral water bottles.

Transforming and redefining material has always been my obsession. Today, I travel the world to major contemporary jewelry events. I love and am challenged by the technical part of my work. I engage in a journey through the transformation of materials in search of aesthetic emotion. This journey takes me to an encounter with each piece of art.

When I began, my unusual pieces attracted attention, though I still experimented. I worked with materials like paper and wood before tackling plastics. I did not know at that time what I wanted to convey but in time, I wanted to express my work through recycling.

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I never find certainty in my work; rather, I always try new things out. Through stimulation and my own desires, I allow the transformation of materials to guide me. I like to surprise myself and to feel that sense of direction to my north in my very skin. Finding this direction comes from allowing the piece to go where it needs to go.

Throughout her learning journey, she encountered a shocking truth about the environment

I came into life in Quilmes in 1963. The plastic arts existed in my high school and when I graduated, I went on to the National University of La Plata. By 24, I finished as an industrial designer. With my degree in hand, I traveled to European countries and finally settled in New York. I felt such an attraction to the city and found immense opportunity, so I stayed for two and a half years. It became the place where I took my first jewelry or metalwork course.

By the time I went home to Argentina I had my first piece for sale, a kind of industrial trash bijouterie, using machine and motor parts I purchased in hardware stores. It felt so nice when people embraced the pieces, and they began selling in stores. While things went well, I felt detached from the ready-made pieces I purchased. I sensed an urgency to generate my own resources and process metals with my own hands.

In 1992, I began studying traditional jewelry with an Armenian teacher names Sarquis. I spent five years intensively studying. In 2000, I took classes at the La Nave workshop, run by Jorge Castañón, a figurehead in Argentine contemporary jewelry. There, I began to work more experimentally based on materials and expression-based concepts.

A sense of comfort came over me in the workshop. I leaned on my design background. Then, a key experience transformed my creative process. In 2007, I visited a wonderful aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa. The experience proved impressive, and as we made our way to the exit, they showed us the garbage islands. The accumulation of plastics floating in the ocean shocked me. We saw about five of these “plastic islands,” the largest near Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. The magnitude of this environmental disaster hit me hard.

Recycled plastic jewelry creates curiosity and interest, and allows others to learn

From the moment I learned about the garbage islands, I began investigating. What could be done with all that material people simply dispose of? On a summer day with my family at a country house, I saw how many plastic bottles accumulated around us. We did not have collection trucks passing by like they do in the city. In just one week with five people, I felt stunned by the number of bottles we accumulated. I started working with the material immediately.

I had no idea what to do, so progress moved slowly at first, but as I worked with the material, I sensed a link with some sort of life force. A sensation ran through my body like when you bask in the sunshine. It feels nice, and the warmth revitalizes you. This experience gave me certainty, this was a powerful project.

My work remains conceptual and the person looking upon it may not be aware specifically, but intuitively understands its organic nature. A little doorway opens and they gradually then suddenly discover the truth. This is plastic and it could be trash!

Jewelry can open dialogue and stage exercises. It makes sense to people, creates interest, and allows for communication with the viewer. Any time I receive a call to exhibit or offer a workshop, a great mobilization ensues. It surprises me and keeps me challenged.

A beautiful space and an artist’s creative process

I love my beautiful workshop space and enjoy being there, where nothing bothers me. After I bought an old, destroyed apartment, I put it together little by little. I leaned on my own tastes and looked for warmth, which I prioritize over everything else. The visible work lights and pipes give it a factory feel, yet they remain functional parts.

In this space, I spent my hours experimenting. The work always begins the same way. I go through the plastic bottles and make selections based on condition, colors, and the type of result I seek. I wash the bottles and remove the labels. Ultimately, they become planes of material I can play with. As I begin experimenting with and operating on the material, the process seems to come from another universe. Questions arise in my mind.

What happens if I sew it? What if I apply metal techniques? If I sand and reheat it, what will it look like? If the material remains smooth, can I wrinkle it? What impure or less geometric shape can I create? If I change variables or scale, what will happen? As time transforms the plastic my questions get answered and my ideas verified.

The personal, emotional impact of art on the artist, the environment, and people

Just as I obtained my workshop and class space, I began investigating the recycling of PETs (polyethylene terephthalate), plastic bottles, and some food containers. While scientists can not yet prove it takes thousands of years for these materials to degrade, we do know it takes hundreds. A problem arises. With the passage of time and climatic conditions, the plastics dry out, pulverize, and become small crystals. This marks the moment of real unmanageability.

The crystals become suspended in water. We inhale them through the air and ingest them directly or through other animals. In my way, I make a difference. Through my work, I explore the unknown. This search and desire to create art through recycling brings me into a pleasant state of alertness and expectation. I must be attentive to the small details arising in the process. As I come into contact with the material, I experience a sense of resistance, conviction, and stubbornness. In totality, I experience joy because something always comes out of it. I love this challenge and it keeps me alive.

This emotion and state of vitality I gain through my work translates into a sense of well-being. Art, and its practice, make us better people.

Translation Disclaimer

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