It’s a beautiful forest unlike any you’ve seen before, with a strong environmental and social message. Currently on display at the Manning Regional Gallery until 15th January, we chat to Bryony Anderson and Chay Khamsone from Frugal Arts Inc., the creators behind the project …
Please give us some background about Frugal Arts Inc. …
Bryony: We actually started making things together in about 2011, beginning with a giant Orb Spider made from old stuffed toys. We formed an association when the Frugal Forest Project started to get huge. We were running workshops across the whole Mid North Coast, funded by MidWaste, and looking at two years of regional touring.
Chay: There were quite a few crafty people in the Pappinbarra valley and surrounds who needed both an artistic and social outlet, and we were all really on the same page about sharing messages about our environment. A lot of us who have tree-changed here from the cities have great concerns about the way our world is going, but are too shy to jump up and down about it. This is one way for us to share what we know, without being shot at.
How has Frugal Arts developed since it first formed?
Bryony: From a harebrained idea and a loose group of people getting together to make stuff in a shed, we’ve now got a solid committee of seven, a growing network of contributors and an ever-spreading reputation. We’ve developed a way of working that considers the environmental and social aspects of everything, and goes deeper than the usual recycled art projects.
Chay: We’ve made some fantastic connections around the region, and had the privilege of meeting people like Professor Veena Sahajwalla from the SMaRT Institute at UNSW, who is looking at big picture solutions to our waste problems. We’ve learnt a lot about how complex the issue of waste is, and how hard it is to deal with once it’s at the end of the line. So we’ve focused our attention a lot on using art to help people see that recycling is not a stand-alone solution. We really need people to join the dots between their consumer choices and the world we live in.
The exhibition you’ve created, Frugal Forest, is currently on display at the Manning Regional Gallery. What types of materials have you used to create the forest?
Chay: It was important that the first impression was of a forest, but then the materials show themselves once you get a bit closer. Some of the materials aren’t immediately discernible, but once you tell people, “That tree fern has two old umbrella frames in it” or “The flowers are made from old swimming caps” then they go, “Oh, yeah! Of course!” At the outset Bryony worked with waste officers from councils to compile a list of problematic materials that could be harnessed. Obviously we had to avoid the hazardous things, but mostly we have used a lot of plastics that currently have no recycling systems, like silage mesh and wrap, for example.
Bryony: Yes, it’s entirely created from materials that would have been headed to landfill. The potential in the things we treat as disposable is incredible! For instance, I have a deep respect for packing strap now, and I think old socks are an untapped gold mine.
How long did it take you to create the forest?
Bryony: The idea was formed in 2013, and we premiered it in January of 2016. There are more than 6,000 hours in it, most of them voluntary. We’ve had over 1,170 active participants across the Mid North Coast with a core of people based in Pappinbarra and nearby regions doing everything from advising on the botany, cleaning plant pots and renovating the touring caravan, to running workshops and doing endless craft …
How have you used multimedia aspects to add to the overall experience of the exhibition?
Chay: Alongside the exhibition we play our 10 minute doco. It showcases all the people who’ve been involved and how the forest happened. We also play some of our shorter instructional videos that school kids helped make, for example, “How to make bottle-top fungi”. These videos are great fun and really help to involve the audience if they haven’t been to workshops or don’t know anything about the project. It also helps explain the soundscape, which is an artwork in itself and has been lovingly created from junk sounds, by composer Rae Howell.
What do you feel is the most important message Frugal Forest aims to pass on to viewers?
Chay: I’d love people to understand that convenience comes at a high cost. Time and money saved now in buying “cheap and nasty” things costs all of us in the long term. I’d love people to start finding out for themselves what those hidden costs are, and feel empowered to do something about it: shop for better products, make your own gifts, sit down for a coffee instead of a takeaway, whatever small changes they can think of – it all helps! And it will enrich your life in the process.
Bryony: Sometimes it feels overwhelming that we’re facing a future of dwindling resources and a spiralling waste problem. But ecosystems like forests are living examples of endlessly sustainable, zero waste systems. They are proof that it can be done! Not only that, they are endlessly beautiful, prolific and diverse: working towards a waste-free future actually presents glorious opportunities.
What’s next on the drawing board for Frugal Arts Inc.?
Bryony: So much! We’ve got a residency coming up at the Koala Hospital, making eucalyptus canopy for their new Education Centre. The Frugal Forest is headed to Wollongong and the Opera House. We’re working on a scheme to bring it back to the Hastings in 2017 and we’re partnering with Wauchope Arts to turn JunkFest into something that the whole town can get involved in.
Chay: I’d love to see Frugal Arts strengthen its presence in the Mid North Coast by having a physical space where people can come to make art, fix things, share skills and actually set in motion some of the principles of a circular economy. The Mid North Coast could be hotbed of frugal creativity! What do you think! We have some amazing minds and energy here.
You can find the Frugal Forest videos, information and free education kit at frugalforest.frugalarts.net. Contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or find Frugal Forest on Facebook.