BEYOND the current status, there is a new way of being. This sort of thinking, applied to an empty soft drink bottle, has led to a sculptural form that looks at first glance like finely cut glass.
Kay Pittelkow, who has been showing her cut-bottle sculptures around the Hunter region over the past year, describes the rush she receives when a pair of eyes dart back for a second-take at her intricate pieces.
It's a "yes, oh yes!" moment. But there's no art of deception involved, rather a fascinating spin on the messaging of sustainable practice.
"Glass of that nature would be revered as something worthwhile," says Pittelkow, who also more traditionally sculpts in limestone, clay and ceramic.
"When people see it as a glass sculpture, they're no longer seeing it as plastic. I had to start leaving some of the bottle, so people could see it was a bottle - they don't realise. The whole concept is to turn waste into art. That really is my prime purpose."
Pittelkow took note of the effect her cut-bottle works were having at a market stall she runs with twin sister Yvonne. They sell handmade upcycled jewellery, including inventive reuse of rubber tyre inners, along with one-off homewares.
She was unsure about continuing to include the delicate vessels in market displays as they are light enough to take off in a puff of wind. But the works quickly proved to be a drawcard, and a conversation starter. People would browse past, then spin back - "it registered!" - so she placed metal weights inside them, and they got to stay.
The bubbled bases of the bottles serve as the only hint to the material's former life as a supermarket staple.
Pittelkow slices off the bottle's neck (with that softer section of plastic best for turning into jewellery), and then works with scissors to bring three-dimensional flowers and filigree effects to life.
Some sections are heat-deformed over a tea candle, then Pittelkow employs a soldering tool that's designed for singeing detailed designs onto wood. With it she incises tiny holes, making patterns based on traditional sources.
"It reminds me of etching," Pittelkow says.
Her design guide spans far and wide, from ancient Aboriginal carvings to English country-style broderie anglaise cutwork fabric, the paper-puncturing craft of quilling and elaborately decorated Japanese sword handles.
Pittelkow moved to Wangi Wangi from Sydney after a long career in medical technology. She was looking for a way to join in with her new community and to re-engage with the art studies of her early years at East Sydney Technical College. She spotted an advertisement for a Sustainable Neighbourhoods Waste to Art exhibition and thought "What could I do?". This is a way of thinking that she attributes to her previous work in the development of medical devices, including a stint heading the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute's artificial heart laboratory.
"It's that willingness to go outside the box that's perhaps characteristic of my work," she says.
"I've worked in the front end of technology, all the time you're willing to go 'What can I do, to do that?'."
Somehow the ubiquitous vessel of mass soft drink production captured Pittelkow's thoughts even though it's not something she drinks much of.
Years back she'd formed a connection with a soft drink bottle manufacturer, visiting the factory to collect bags of reject bottles for student science classes she was running. Seeing the base material polyester turned out into thousands upon thousands of PET bottles gave her an insight that she'd now use in answer to the Waste to Art exhibition call-out.
"Each position on a soft drink bottle has different characteristics, different levels of plastic," she says.
"The base is unbelievably difficult to cut."
She had a play and began to see the possibilities, which she is continuing to refine into new intricacies.
"Doing that, you start learning about the subtleties of plastic."
As she prepares for this year's Waste to Art exhibit, Pittelkow is working on how she can push the "soft drink bottle" medium even further into the field of art.
The Sustainable Neighbourhoods Waste to Art Exhibition 2021 will be held October to December at library venues around Lake Macquarie.
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