Net-Zero Hero: Calder Kamin
I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero by being creative.
Austin is green and we all want to keep it that way! As a community, we’re committed to reaching the target of Net-Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which will ensure a safe, healthy, vibrant Austin for many years to come. Here’s the story of how one person can make a difference.
Meet local artist Calder Kamin. She contributes to Austin's Net-Zero goal in several ways, but most importantly through her creative process, which involves transforming plastic trash into whimsical and thought-provoking works of art. While her creations are both beautiful and playful and can be appreciated on those terms alone, Calder also uses her work to educate others about minimizing waste. We spoke with Calder about the inspiration for her art, what her toughest challenges have been, and what advice she has for others looking to live Net-Zero. Read more below.
Growing up in Austin, I learned about the importance of recycling and grew passionate about caring for animals and the environment. Extensive research and the desire to educate my audience about their environmental impact got me interested in incorporating recycled materials into my practice as an artist.
Plastic is everywhere. This man-made substance litters roads, fills oceans and has entered the tissue of all living things. Humans transformed nature to make our lives more convenient, only to leave a massive mess for the next generation. If birds can transform trash into architecture, what is our excuse for not reusing these abundant by-products?
My art explores the relationship between humans and the environment through projects like Synanthrope Station (bird nesting supply capsules filled with plastic debris), Ripple Effects (which explores the effects of synthetic estrogen on frogs), and Plastic Planet (animals sculpted from plastic bags). I also created activities that were gentle and accessible for children to understand the plastic crisis. I hope to inspire the next generation to be better environmental stewards.
I reached out to my extended community via college friends, family in other parts of Texas and my social media followers. The message was simple. Send me plastic bags, I will turn it into art, and in return, I will send you a gift. I receive boxes weekly filled with bags and gratitude for transforming their trash into treasure and I send them a flower crocheted from plastic bags. With the help of my extended community, the Plastic Planet series diverted thousands of plastic bags from the environment.
I also collected Styrofoam and upholstery foam from the Austin Resource Recovery Recycle and Reuse Drop-Off Center and the Austin Creative Reuse and began building relationships with the folks behind these organizations. My art would not be possible if it wasn't for the support I received from my connections.
It's complicated. Like everyone else, I'm constantly conflicted between making sustainable choices over convenience. Sometimes I want to order my food to go, but small steps matter, and for several years I've always carried reusable bags and water bottles. I don't eat beef because of the environmental repercussions. I try to consume less, cook at home more, walk when it's an option, and reduce, reuse and recycle. I remind myself every day that trash never goes away, just because I throw it away. All of the plastic that has been created in the last century still exists and will remain longer than any of us will be alive. Cultural perceptions about nature and consumption have to change on a global scale, and that is why I have devoted my art practice to this message.
When I share my ideas and knowledge on conservation and animal behavior, I always get the response "I didn't know that". Through my emphasis on education, I hope to empower people to take action. I’m still optimistic that if we are capable of changing the world for the worse, we must also be equipped to transform it for the better. The overarching goal of my art is for my audiences to find expansive, transformative beauty in the objects and ourselves. The support for my series Plastic Planet has been overwhelming and I am so grateful to share this work with my family by my side in my hometown.
I've diverted thousands of plastic bags from the environment equipped only with my ideas, hands and a glue gun. Transforming waste into art is something anyone can do at home with a little time and patience. Bring new life to discarded materials or learn to love trash. Don't just be a consumer, be a creator.
Want to learn more about Calder's work?
Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @calderful or visit her website at calderkamin.com.
To learn more about Austin's Net-Zero Goal, view the Community Climate Plan.
Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.