Floyd Elzinga has been making art since first grade, when he traded a drawing of an elephant for a wagon wheel lunch treat.
Since then, the world of art has become even more lucrative for him.
His latest project took him to Nepal, where he worked with a local organization to make art out of waste from Mount Everest.
It all started with a bad review. When he went to college to study graphic design, he was told his work was “primitive.”
“I was so offended. I just was like, ‘I want nothing to do with [the art] world.'”
He then “turned the other direction” and tried to get into forestry school.
Even in horrible conditions, there is a potential for something good to happen.– Floyd Elzinga, artist
His love for nature now plays a central role in his art as he says he is “hugely inspired by the natural world.”
He says “my art is my forestry … I grew up on a farm and now I make metal seeds and flowers and I’m growing a metal garden.”
Working at one of the world’s highest art galleries
Elzinga was invited to Nepal in an Instagram message by the Denali Foundation, an organization that supports artists.
The invitation made him “excited but skeptical.”
He worked at Sagarmatha Next, which oversees the Denali Schmidt Art Gallery, to use garbage to create sculptures.
The five-week residency took him and his wife from their home in Beamsville, Ont., on an eight-day trip to the Everest region in Nepal, at 3,775 metres high.
He made 25 pieces at his residency, including Hope, a tree stump with a sapling growing out of it.
The stump has a hole inside with various household appliances, including a stove, a kettle, a mailbox and more.
“My true inspiration [for the sculpture] is that even in horrible conditions, there is a potential for something good to happen.”
For Grounded: The Weight of Flight, he made a tree with roots that intertwine with the rotor of a MI-17 Russian helicopter that crashed in Everest Base Camp on May 28, 2003, and said it represents the “literal and metaphorical weight [the rotor] has.”
“It’s just this beautiful tree is growing right through, oblivious to the nature of what has happened.”
Safeguarding for future generations
Elzinga told his story on social media through a photo of the waste, where people responded in anger, not knowing the garbage showed in pictures was actually brought there purposely to recycle.
The trash is transported by porters and yaks, as the centre is inaccessible to vehicles, says Tommy Gustafsson, project director at the Himalayan Museum and Sustainable Park, which operates the Sagarmatha Next Centre.
“The bulk [of the garbage] is from the various mountain Base Camps … and from the +100 waste bins that are placed along the main hiking trails in the region,” he said.
The purpose of the Waste to Art project — which started in 2011 with Nepalese artists — is to make people see that waste is “a resource that can and should be reused,” said Gustafsson.
As a non-profit organization, the centre aims to support waste removal in the area and supports the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee.
He added the response from locals and foreigners alike has been “amazing and positive,” and he’s taken pleasure in seeing people discover art can be made from waste and realize the importance of preserving the environment “for future generations.”
David Fennell, a tourism studies professor at Brock University, said the project is “an excellent example of sustainable thinking.”
Fennell said the project could be seen as “a model” for other destinations.
“It is not just the physical presentation and aesthetic quality of these unique pieces,” he said. “But also the education and raising awareness of the human use of special places like the high-altitude regions of Nepal which are especially vulnerable to overuse.”
Garbage from Mount Everest hanging on European homes
Elzinga said 10 to 12 of his pieces have already made their way into homes around Europe, and some of them are displayed at the gallery.
He said one of the highlights of the residency was getting to chat with passersby.
“I guess seeing a western artist making a sculpture out of garbage is the last thing that they thought they were going to see on their Nepali trekking adventure.”
Elzinga has come a long way since that first bad review. He’s developed a thick skin.
He says “The best thing is to not take it personally, because once I make a work of art … that’s not necessarily about me anymore.”
A word of thanks, however, can go a long way.
“It still shocks me to … see people just weeping, crying [over my pieces],” he says.