Best in show | Recycled artwork, by Michelle Reader, 2022 - Museums Association

Best in show | Recycled artwork, by Michelle Reader, 2022

A new commission at the National Space Centre inspired by Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa, 1831
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Recycled artwork, by Michelle Reader, 2022 Courtesy National Space Centre
Dan Kendall
Curator and exhibition manager at the National Space Centre, Leicester

“Our new Home Planet gallery takes an interactive look at the part satellites play in our relationship with the Earth and how they will be used as we deal with future effects of the climate crisis.

It opens with our giant three-metre diameter Earth globe and the famous Blue Marble photograph of the planet taken on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

From there, a panoramic wall screen shows wonderful pictures and videos of different biospheres – the oceans, rainforests and so on – while the floor features projections of stepping stones, floating logs and sea creatures that appear to swim away as you approach.

Every 12 minutes, the screen turns into a single countryside vista with time-lapse imagery showing the effect of human activity while a giant thermometer records dramatically rising temperatures.

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Pulling out from the rural scene, we see the host of satellites orbiting the Earth, studying climate variables. Alongside all this, we wanted a striking artwork to look at the pollution problem and decided that a new version of the famous print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the 19th-century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai would highlight the issue and sweep dramatically across a gallery wall.

We pitched the idea to Nottinghamshire-based artist Michelle Reader, who works with recycled materials. She plucked detritus from the River Soar, which runs behind the National Space Centre, and collected rubbish from local businesses to make the new work.

When we dismantled our old exhibition, Orbiting Earth, to make way for the new display, we saved whatever we thought might be useful in future. Reader took metalwork and plastic panels to incorporate into the wave structure, which has everything from discarded plastic bottles, flip flops and bedsprings to a Minion toy and a Covid test kit.

The pandemic meant we couldn’t meet properly during construction, so we had no idea what we were likely to receive; there was relief all round when the sculpture was as impressive as we were imagining. And it’s been interesting now to see kids enjoy looking at it close up and spotting all the individual items of discarded rubbish.

We’re not trying to bang people over the head with a sermon about recycling but, hopefully, visitors will get the message about the need to take better care of our beautiful planet.

Meanwhile, infographics show what individuals can do to make a difference. Visitors also get a chance to make a pledge to be more responsible via a giant marble run. The marbles can take two routes: a positive pledge leads to an exciting voyage through the incredible contraption while the other choice results in a short, unfulfilling run. Is this an entertaining bribe? One hundred per cent yes!”

Interview by John Holt. The Home Planet gallery at the National Space Centre, Leicester, is on permanent display

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