Turning waste into art in Taranaki

Opunake artist Claire Jensen rescues waste and turns it into stunning works of art. Taranaki Community News caught up with her to find out more about her beautiful work.

Hi Claire! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I’m originally from the South Island but grew up in Queensland, where I studied art and education at JCU, Townsville.

I moved to Opunake in 2005 and have been busy as a mum, teacher and now artist since. I’m passionate about the environment and sustainability, so how I live and what I create artistically reflects this.

Can you tell us more about the different kinds of things you create and why you do it? 
I am currently working in two differing styles that stem from the same source, that being the waste materials I collect and acquire.

I have developed a contemporary art and design identity called wastemedia, behind which I create sculpture and functional design predominantly from waste plastics and wood.

Also, I have developed a brand more suited to home décor featuring New Zealand themes mainly made from wood – The Brown Bach Studio or brownbachnz.

Where do you get all of the materials from?
I gather materials from many sources including my household, the community and the environment. Often people will contact me with regard to materials they would like to donate rather than send to landfill.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve found? 
While combing a South Taranaki beach I came across a large, textured fragment of black plastic from something like a buoy. At this stage I was not really working with beach plastic so I almost walked past it and left it, but my conscience got the better of me and I thought I had better remove the rubbish.

After studying the piece some more in my studio, I could appreciate how interesting this fragment was as it was heavily textured and battered by the motion of the ocean against the rocks. I set about making a sculpture relating to ocean plastic, pyro plastic and petroleum called Petroplast. In retrospect this piece of plastic was instrumental in guiding my current practice.

Petroplast, 2018, made from beach plastic and plastic packaging. 

Where can people see your work? 
Here in Opunake we are very fortunate to have a gallery featuring Taranaki artists and makers, called Kete Aronui Gallery run by Scott and Monica Willson, where I show and sell both wastemedia and Brown Bach works.

Also, close by at Pihama, visitors can view my work at Pihama Lavender gallery shop owned and operated by Liz Sinclair.

Puke Ariki recently acquired a sculpture of mine for their collection called Microplastic Plankton, an installation made from collected beach plastic and plastic packaging. This piece features in a video interview in the current exhibition Whare Kahurangi at Puke Ariki museum running until 6 October 2019.

What are some of the key things or philosophies you live by?
As an artist working with waste my main philosophy would have to be waste not, want not.

In relation to life, my overall belief is that all should be respected – including other people, animals and the environment. Ideally this would be reciprocated by others too!

Claire Jensen with a hanging shrine made from waste plastic packaging, Reverence.

If you could have dinner with any three people from history, who would you pick and why, and what would you talk about? 
This question has stumped me a little as I find it difficult to narrow it down to only three historical figures!

Instead I should like to nominate three ordinary citizens from three different historical eras, firstly an ancient Roman citizen, a Tudor peasant and a person from the Victorian era.

I would like to know more about what isn’t well recorded in history including daily routines, the thoughts and beliefs they hold.