3Rs: Nicole Fournier Activates the Second 'R'
“3RV” is a visible reminder to reduce ‘residual’ waste that appears throughout the world. The three ‘R’s are lined up in a meaningful sequence, beginning with the most desirable environmental outcome and ending with the least. The first ‘R’ stands for reduction at the source; the second for reuse; the third for recycling. While recycling waste is the least beneficial, it monopolizes the attention of environmentally-conscious municipalities and good Samaritan consumers everywhere; neither seems inclined to reduce consumption or seek new uses for unwanted objects.
As an example, it is common for consumers to assume that once a book’s reading appeal has been exhausted, it is automatically reclassified as trash. To them, if a book is not going to be read, it no longer has value. Even channeling unwanted books into recycling programs is not a solution, since recycling procedures are often costly and wasteful. Landfills are heaped with the products of such narrow-mindedness.
In contrast, re-users are creative thinkers who approach a book that is not going to the read as a material object with potential for alternative forms of service. They disregard its intended function. Instead, they highlight its physical attributes: books are sheets of paper bound between covers. Their pages are modular and pliable. Stacked, these pages are as solid as a brick. In addition, books are flammable; absorb water; open and close; and fit in the hand. By concentrating on these material traits, re-users can discover multiple new employment opportunities for discarded books:
Use them as door stops; dig them into a compost pile; stack them to create a table; burn them to generate warmth and light; use the pages to wrap sandwiches or as toilet paper; grind the pages to make new paper; crumble the pages to insulate a wall; gold the pages into envelopes; tear the pages for mulch, etc.
Nicole Fournier, a resident of Quebec, designs her creative art practice around the second ‘R’.
As a result, her method is as environmentally instructive as the installations they generate. Fournier applies the re-user’s environmental ethic to discarded winter jackets and snow pants. She selects only those that are polyester and nylon because these materials are an environmental nuisance that begs to be addressed. Both substances are petroleum-based. They are, therefore, implicated in the detrimental consequences of oil extraction and refinement. Furthermore, both processes consume large amounts of water and energy. Polyester manufacture uses contaminating lubricants, and nylon manufacture creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In addition, neither is biodegradable; it takes decades for these materials to break down. Fournier specifically addresses the hazards associated with ‘micro plastics’ that are formed as synthetic clothing degrades in the oceans. She comments, “Research shows that the problem does not exist in the soil. The reasons would be because of the biodiversity in soils…. The chemical processes and biological micro-organisms in the soil and plants ingest and transform the micro plastics from textiles.”
These troublesome discards are the medium Fournier used to create an installation entitled “Emballe Toi” (2014) . The work’s initial function was, therefore, to manage a harmful consumer waste product. Her process of acquiring these rejected polyester and nylon items occurs just-in-the-nick-of- time. The clothing she rescues was not only discarded by its owners, it even failed all the tests for recycling conducted at Certex in St-Hubert, a non-profit company in Quebec that was founded to recover and recycle textiles, while providing a workplace for people with functional limitations. Fournier gathers their ‘non-recoverable’ trash just before it departs for the landfill.
Fournier applied her re-user’s mentality to these hopeless items. Since their original function was clearly impossible, she searched for a new form of possible ‘employment’. This entailed focusing on their material attributes instead of their intended purpose. The nylon and polyester could still resist decomposition, withstand harsh weather, insulate, and retain moisture. Fournier compiled these attributes and determined that worn-out winter gear could be used to construct containers for plants, protecting them in hot summers and cold winters.