If there is any everyday item which many people both love and hate, it has to be the plastic water bottle. While it does a great job of containing water for us to drink, disposing of it afterwards can be a problem. It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of bottles littering the ground after any social gathering or event, instead of being put in recycling bins.
Contemporary artist Azliza Ayob, however, is doing something different with used water bottles. She converts them into eye-catching works of art.
Her latest exhibition, Everlasting Love, features various nature-themed sculptures, mostly made from of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles.
“I used to work with more tangible mediums, like paper clay, to represent our frailty as humans in the world. But after almost two decades in this field, I was thinking I wanted to make something more lasting. I wanted to explore everlasting love as I think people need a lot of love these days,” says Azliza, 41, speaking during an interview at the leafy Rimbun Dahan, her exhibition venue, in Kuang, Selangor.
“So I started to work with plastic bottles, which can last up to 500 years until they dissolve. I thought it was important to work on something unwanted, and change them with art and creativity.”
Everlasting Love is a showcase of 22 works created by Azliza during her year-long Rimbun Dahan Residency 2016 stint, which began last November.
Rimbun Dahan was born from a fruit orchard but since 1994 it has been a hub for developing traditional and contemporary art forms.
For this residency series, the environmentally-minded Azliza takes inspiration from the various flora and fauna from Rimbun Dahan. This probably explains the heavy floral theme in her works.
Most of the works – sculptures and paintings – in Everlasting Love come in bright, striking colours. The green and yellow in Valour give out a very festive Christmas tree-like vibe, while the shades of pastel pink in Forbidden add to the work’s enticing allure.
How better, after all, to represent the show’s theme of love?
“It’s about the fun things, joy, the things we celebrate in life. Everything has something to do with what we do in love,” says Azliza.
This exhibition, which is her second solo, also ties together the themes of labour, community, tradition and sustainability.
Azliza has been an artist, facilitator and educator for over 16 years now, having exhibited both locally and internationally (Japan, Australia, Sweden and Spain). Her first solo show was 2014’s collage-centred All That Glitters, held at Wei-Ling Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
According to Azliza, she had long aimed for a residency at Rimbun Dahan. This stint was her third application. Originally, she was supposed to be there for a six months, but her stay was eventually extended to a year.
Azliza started out with one studio and a small collection of plastic bottles. One year on, the scale of her work has required her to utilise two studios at Rimbun Dahan.
“I tried to enter this place 11 years ago, and I never stopped trying!” she says.
Being accepted at Rimbun Dahan meant her whole family coming along. Azliza and her husband – fellow artist Ilham Fadhli – packed up their four children (aged between 11 and one year old), transferred their schools, and moved them from their home in Sri Kembangan to Kuang.
“Artists want to be alone, but I’m never alone, everyone follows me! This is like a residency for the whole family. My kids really love this place. They help me out in my work, like with cutting labels,” says Azliza.
The artist is no stranger to upcycling bottles. She had previously done so in For Your Daughters (2011), where she created a dense field of radiant red flowers from discarded mineral water bottles. Everlasting Love, however, is the biggest project by far from Azliza. It involved over 2,000 bottles, all either handpicked from the roadside and trash, or donated by fellow artists, friends, family, eateries and shops from Kuang to Kuantan.
“It was huge and very overwhelming (to create this show). I felt like I’ve been haunted by these plastic bottles. I think I spent 60% of my time here working on them. We’ve been cutting them since last year,” says Azliza with a laugh.
Once she obtained the bottles, Azliza added other collage-centric materials to the show. These include batik fabric from her own personal collection, plastic flowers and some wedding presents from her mother-in-law’s Kelantanese family.
“For the weaving, I used plastic strips, wires and wire mesh instead of the traditional mengkuang. I also incorporated glass and plastic beads, rhinestones, oil paint mixed with spray paint, recycled printed items, glitter, stuff from local hardware stores and all-in-one convenience shops.”
More importantly, Azliza’s desire, through her work process, is to turn the junk into art.
“The material must be considered trash, unwanted, or too unimaginable to create art, it must show the laborious process of art.”
Challenges, as she admits, were plenty.
Azliza took on the process with gusto, even turning to YouTube to help her find out more about certain bottle types and textures.
She says that some bottles are more difficult to manipulate than others.
“We made this work (Valour) with soda bottles. It happens that the plastic used here is different from the one in usual white bottles. You can’t spray on it. I use a technique of burning. If you want to change the form of the plastic, you have to use heat. But while doing that, I found I could not control how this plastic bends. It’s been very interesting, and very challenging,” says Azliza, referring to her work Valour.
Perhaps, the most striking work on display, however, is Enchanted, a huge pink and violet floral garland suspended from the ceiling.
During the exhibition, the artist hopes that people will interact with it, such as stand inside it to take selfies.
Her exhibition also features many batik works and collages, which do not utilise any plastic bottles. First Class, for instance, is drawn from her previous experience as cabin crew on Malaysia Airlines, while Reminisce is inspired from her (art) residency in Fukuoka, Japan.
“There is a lot of trash in Malaysia. But I’d like to change this attitude. Can I show that we can change trash to treasure? Everything, even your life or relationships, deserves a second chance … for you to nurture with love,” she says.
Azliza Ayob’s Everlasting Love is showing at Rimbun Dahan, Km 27 (entrance next to Lorong Belimbing), Jalan Kuang, Kuang in Selangor till Dec 4. Opening hours: 10am-6pm on weekends, and by appointment on weekdays. For more information, visit: rimbundahan.org.