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in the arts

Professor takes out the trash...and turns it into art

Cyndi Gusler (C 93) is not a dentist. But she is fascinated by dental x-rays, or at least the thin lead shield hidden inside the x-ray packet.

Gusler is an artist who is drawn to materials that can’t be recycled. Some are very common; others fall into the category of hazardous waste. That’s the kind of material this EMU art professor can’t resist.

“I choose post-consumer materials that our world is not set up to recycle,” Gusler explained. “Occasionally I mix in other things to flesh out a certain form, but I focus on things that we use and throw away because there is no recycling alternative.”

Gusler uses these found materials to create sculptural works that resemble mineral rock formations and other organic forms.

She often uses bluestone or fallen wood as the base of her work, then, tweezers in hand, lays in pieces of smashed windshield glass, bits of red cellophane from a Valentine’s day box of chocolates, or snippets of wire harvested from discarded cables.

“I see something in someone’s garbage can, or lying by the side of the road and I’m drawn to it. It’s interesting to me because it’s intended to be interesting to me. In order to sell a product, manufacturers know that their packaging has to be brighter and more attractive than the packaging of the next product on the shelf. Millions of dollars of design go into attracting your attention with the packaging. But the actual product, say, the soda inside the bottle, is consumed in five minutes and all of that beautiful packaging is discarded. It doesn’t serve a function other than to attract you to purchase the product.”

Gusler’s art functions in the same way. It attracts you and pulls you in. At a distance, you see an amethyst geode or a piece of driftwood covered in shiny slivers of mica. Come closer, and you can read the Dasani water bottle labels glued onto her work.

She hopes that once viewers are lured into closer proximity to the beautiful object they will see that it is actually made out of materials they might find in their own trash can and begin to question its meaning.

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“My work explores the whole idea of consumerism. We purchase a product because we’re attracted to it and to the image it promotes. We’re so concerned with having the right thing with the right label. Yet the packaging of our products is both killing our environment and giving us a false sense of individuality.”

Gusler recently led a group of EMU art students in developing a runway show of beautiful, designer clothing created entirely from found objects. The “trash fashion show” clothed models in materials commonly found in the garbage, along with highly-polluting, difficult-to-dispose-of items such as bicycle inner tubes and, yes, lead shields from dental x-rays.

As the models sashayed down the runway arrayed in Styrofoam packing peanuts and bubble wrap, it raised the question: What in the world are we to do with all of this stuff?

Gusler, for one, will keep using it to create beautiful art.

—Eileen Freuh