Confession time … amongst other things, I studied fine art at U of T. Normally this means my education and work life have precious little to do with one another, but not today. Today, I’ll show you the perfect marriage of art and the environment as they meet in hopeful, glorious, thought-provoking displays (how’s that for an intro?).

We’ll start with Kitty Chan in the Radiation Medicine Program at UHN. Kitty needed lots and lots of used coffee cups to do an environmental awareness art installation called “The Tree of Hope”. This tree will stand in all its glory at David Suzuki’s upcoming Blue Dot tour.

Perry, Kitty and Megan, all of the fabulous green team, get those cups together

We spread the word to the green team at UHN, and they sprang in to action. Around 25 teams set up boxes and collected cups from their colleagues. It was a perfect way for green team members to start those sometimes awkward conversations, like how to Lug a Mug for better taste and less waste (bonus, it rhymes).

Kitty and I duel it out with our coffee cup swords after a whirlwind tour collecting from staff
Kitty and I duel it out with our coffee cup swords after a whirlwind tour collecting from staff
close up of a tree branch
close up of a tree branch

You can see the photos from cup collection to art creation for a 2nd lease on life on our Facebook Page (and Like the page while you’re there please)

It’s not just eco-groups that get in on the action … professional art galleries have often re-used objects to create powerful pieces. One such exhibition, “Garbage Heaven” at the Robert Kananaj gallery, was made using thousands of empty pill bottles. Where did the artist get the materials? The valiant Toronto General Hospital (TGH) Pharmacy staff set up a collection box.


For the inside scoop, Roberta Laking, a pharmacist at TGH, tells it best…

The project took the better part of a year and was originally inspired by my husband Robert’s chance visit to a garbage sorting facility. It got him thinking about all the things we use, consume, and discard –  how in the process they become part of us.

When Robert first asked me to save empty medication stock bottles and drop them off at the gallery, I was surprised and initially reluctant.  Root through the recycling bin for bottles and lids, like some sort of eco-dumpster diver? And carry bags of them on the subway? No way!

He persisted and I finally agreed to try.  My co-workers were puzzled and amused by the whole idea, and soon started helping with the collection. As I rotated through the Transplant Clinic and Immunodefficiency Clinic pharmacies, the staff there joined in with enthusiasm. Even the housekeeping staff made sure the empty bottles were safely kept aside for me.

Robert would come regularly to TGH on his bicycle and load it up like a pack-horse for the trip back to the gallery at Bloor and Lansdowne.  Every week, we were asked by cleaners and co-workers, “Are you still collecting?” and the answer would be “Yes, the project needs more.”

Globe Bottle Installation made of bottles collected at our Pharmacies
Globe Bottle Installation made of bottles collected at our Pharmacies

The medication bottle installation of “Garbage Heaven” was assembled last spring in the gallery by Robert, with the assistance of a couple of recent fine arts graduates from OCADU … Thanks to the timely loan of a scissor lift, the installation reaches all the way to the 18-foot high ceiling.

They have provoked a wide range of responses. Some people look for the names of medications they take themselves, others are reminded of family members or friends who take a lot of pills; some are just astounded at the sheer quantity of medication consumed – surely this must be for all of Toronto??

Something to think about…

Yes Roberta and Kitty, definitely something to think about … and that’s the whole idea of art, isn’t it? Thinking, and hopefully acting on that thinking … and berets, don’t forget the berets.

Creatively yours,