By Leyna Roget
In Los Angeles you are likely to find a frenzy competition between billboards and the sunny blue sky. Oversized advertisements seem to suffocate the cityscape, prior to their timely afterlife of secreting poisonous toxins into their landfill graves. Fortunately, there are people like Peter Schulberg who are willing to reexamine disposable billboards and flip them onto their other side. Schulberg applies his approach to material conservation through making functional found art and inspiring programs for everyone to repurpose old materials into art.
For the past five years, Schulberg has been transforming 14x48 foot outdated advertising prints, made from non-biodegradable vinyl, into creative canvases for the masses. His gallery, ECO-Logical Art, hosts Second Saturday ECO-LA as a social forum for the unveiling of these giant works of art. Schulberg defines “ECO-Logical” as a source of material that has been recovered, either from existing in excess or being destined for landfills. He clarifies that the imagery created isn’t necessarily environmental because that would be too limiting to the expressive nature of art. Instead, there is an inherent ecological overlay to the process of using discarded, found materials for artistic purposes.
The countless eyes that fall upon the repurposed billboards are a testament to his desire to share the art of “revision” beyond his gallery walls. From 2005-2007, the Zimmer Children’s Museum in Los Angeles was a site for Schulberg to inspire youthful minds to turn old garage-fillers into practical artistic creations. The functional art pieces crafted by kids aged 9-18 were done through the arts education program youThink, which empowers kids to use their imagination and critical thinking skills to visualize and develop their potential to achieve social change. Functional art means finding obsolete or purposeless objects and putting them back into practical use through creatively transforming their form. According to Peter, “it’s about getting kids to waste differently, to look at what’s around them, divorced from its function, divorced from its viability, but just as an object or something that they can try to reinterpret.” Some of the artwork constructed by Schulberg involves a coffee table using an industrial fan as the base, a lamp with a vintage trumpet as the staff, and a bookshelf with water skis as the side posts.
One of Schulberg’s biggest challenges is finding the funds to maintain his public art-unveiling project. The outdoor advertising budgets for commercial products soar into the hundred million dollars range that primarily accounts for the cost of leasing billboards. To keep the project going, it’s a matter of appealing to companies that are interested in seeing the life of vinyl extended and appropriated into the hands of artists. Schulberg states, “I think there are sponsors out there that will recognize the value of just the way we now Xerox on both sides of a piece of paper. We can now paint on both sides of this vinyl.” To date, ECO-LA has had approximately $450,000. of donated advertisement space to display art, and has diverted over 10,000 square feet of PVC vinyl from entering the ground.
A city overrun with commercial advertising monstrosities has a great need for the skilled vision of a craftsman like Schulberg, who is willing to deconstruct old modes of visual communication and to inspire new discussions on wasting differently. This concept of reinventing used materials can be effectively applied to contemporary issues that require a reexamination of outdated systems and practices beyond the theme of art. While recycled mirror squares, CD case picture frames, and vinyl record clocks aren’t going to resolve some of today’s pressing social issues, they do encourage a level of resourcefulness and ingenuity that is needed to present new ideas for working through complex situations.