GOCA unpacks plastic foam for robot exhibit

Jan. 28, 2013

Alexander Nedd
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For many, a Styrofoam cup represents an easily disposable container. But that’s only seeing the cup half empty.

For artist Michael Salter, the other half represents a new creative style of thinking and sculpting that saves the cup from becoming part of an endless landfill.

The Gallery of Contemporary Art is featuring a new display of Salter’s work. The exhibit, which opened Jan. 24, lets students view his masterpiece: a robot made completely out of polystyrene packing foam.

Titled “Nothing Comes from Nothing,” the installation embodies the nothingness, refuse and garbage that plastic foam represents in our community. It also references the Buddhist notion that nothingness comes from a thoughtless state of mind.

Why plastic foam? “I have a long history of using objects that I find.” Salter said. “To me it already looked like robots, it was just a matter of cutting it up and putting the pieces together.”

Leading up to opening day, pieces of plastic foam lay around the room awaiting the hand and imagination of Salter to bring them to life. For Salter, this is his canvas.

Already carved, a vast block of plastic foam took center stage, etched with detail. This was the body of the robot Salter was making, his specialty with plastic foam.

“The installation is essentially a large Styrofoam robot sitting in a lotus position, a common meditative posture,” Salter said. “He’s surrounded by these graphics of iconography that exist in a continuous, circular, repetitive pattern, much like the breath or mantra that is used for meditation.”

Salter’s work has been displayed not only nationally but globally, with exhibits showcased from London to Berlin. It has helped shape his world as an artist.

“I am an obsessive observer, meaning I am obsessed with the way the world looks,” Salter said. “I’m [also] an obsessive collector. I’ve always been that way.”

The display allows for the plastic foam to be used once more before it is thrown away and broken down again.

His work takes anywhere from seven to 10 days. During that time, his work is spontaneous. “The head never comes first, but it never goes last either,” he said about deciding what to build next.

Salter receives his plastic foam from people in the communities where he works. For this project, Salter has been provided plastic foam for more than a year. “I’m making something that the community has brought in, and that’s awesome,” he said.

Daisy McConnell, director of GOCA, encourages students to come look at the exhibit. “We bring artists here for students,” she said. “His work is gorgeous. It really makes you think about your consumption.”

Salter expressed that he hopes UCCS students walk away with a greater understanding of the material’s life cycle. “I want people to understand their responsibility in the way that the world works.”

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