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Repurposed Art: The Second Life of Cardboard

The alter egos of discarded cardboard, what Edvard Munch has to do with recycling, and the only violin Itzhak Perlman can’t play.

Today, we’re looking at a ubiquitous and often overlooked material — cardboard — and fresh ways of breathing new life into it beyond the obvious call for recycling. Because reusing is great, but repurposing into something that makes a bigger cultural contribution, well, that’s immeasurably better.


Most of us see corrugated paper as a shameful piece of packaging waste, begging to be recycled — if we pay attention to it in the first place, that is. But for artist Mark Langan, it is the proverbial canvas for a truly unique kind of art.

Mark makes Corrugated Art — a celebration of “the unique properties of a highly visible manufactured product” by creatively repurposing it into fully recyclable artwork.

Mark’s commercial work includes a number of corporate logos. Some, of course, are more appropriate than others — Packaging Company of America is a no-brainer, but we fail to see how the sustainability message fits with the bottled water industry, easily among the world’s least sustainable.

We’re big fans of repurposing here — both physically, as a way to minimize waste, and conceptually, as a challenge to conceive of the ordinary in a an extraordinarily novel way. So go ahead and explore Mark’s work — you’ll never look at cardboard the same way again.


The work of British artist Chris Gilmour isn’t merely about giving old materials new life — it’s about provoking amazement and surprise and a new understanding of everyday reality.

Gilmour makes life-sized sculptures made out of packaging cardboard. But as immaculate as his craftsmanship is, his art transcends the realm of craft — it’s a commentary on the process of deconstruction and construction, an aesthetic and conceptual narrative about the routines of daily life, an exploration of the often thin line between reality and unreality.

Gilmour’s work has progressed from objects that capture the emotion and memory of first-hand experiences — a bicycle, a typewriter, a piano — to pieces of broader cultural context.

Explore Chris Gilmour‘s work and process — his sculptures are a true testament to art’s transformative power in both material and mind, inspiring new ways of thinking through new ways of doing.


Simply-named American company Cardboard Design offers all kinds of cardboard-made castles, forts, rockets, playhouses, dollhouses, teepees, dens, chairs and pods — play-therapy for kids being nursed on the sustainable lifestyle from birth. Great already. But beyond the they also have something called liquid cardboard — a line of products that move freely from one shape to another.

Each item is an absolute chameleon, with the capacity to transform into anything from a vase to a bowl to a candle holder to a stress toy — creative clay to be molded solely by your imagination.

We also love Cardboard Design‘s “Cardboard Speaks” guerrilla campaign — a quirky effort aimed at making passers-by question the mundane material and toy with the prospect of its second life.

Here’s to looking at the ordinary and envisioning the extraordinary — even if it’s “mere” cardboard we’re looking at.

Published February 27, 2009




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