Art of pulp in the packaging

Using art to challenge prevailing habits of waste and disposability is at the heart of a new exhibition of pulp art made out of the packaging usually found wrapped round anything from kettles and computers to biscuits and bottles.

In a project called "Back to the Wood", students from colleges in Durham, Swansea and Leeds were invited to convert the re-cyclable packaging called Vernapac, into artworks that would form a three-year touring exhibition for the Forestry Commission.

Vernapac, a Lancashire-based company which manufacturers the pulp packaging, and the Forestry Commission hope that this project will serve a dual purpose: that it will on one hand raise awareness about sustainable resources, while on the other give students a challenging and unlikely material to turn into art.

Working with the assorted shapes and sizes of the biodegradable, moulded pulp, 16 to 17-year-olds have therefore been busy bashing, shredding, dying, painting, squashing, chopping and otherwise torturing it into 30 dramatic collages, sculptures, panels and models which all express concerns about natural renewal.

The exhibition opened at Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent and is now on a nationwide tour of Forestry Commission centres and classrooms in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Northumbria. At each venue there will be workshops for local school children to try their hands at making their own Vernapac pulp art, while learning about the environmental implications of packaging. Existing models may act as a possible source of inspiration, but visitors will be encouraged to take the opportunity to make the most of their sylvan surroundings by adding a pine cone here and a gnarled root there, for maximum effect.

Jon Dodds, one of the lecturers who steered Durham GNVQ students through the project says he is enthusiastic about it because it alerted them to the relationship between design and the environment. He adds: "This is especially relevant for a less academic college like ours, where GNVQ students from urban areas are competing for higher education courses and may not have much experience of what design actually means."

He has subsequently been urging his pupils to scavenge skips, dustbins and jumble sales in a bid to re-use every available material. Ever-diminishing budgets, he says, have made such resourcefulness even more imperative.

Vernapac, which is donating its recyclable packaging free of charge, was congratulated at the exhibition opening by Home Office minister Tom Sackville for "this imaginative and fruitful liaison between industry, education and the environment". He went on to add: "It's amazing what you can do with old newspapers."

* For more information on the Vernapac Art Project contact Francesca Turner at 3 Harley Villas, Victoria Road, Todmorden, Lancs 0L14 5JB. Tel: 01706 816541.

* The tour and workshops begin at Kielder in May. For details of the Forestry Commission centres involved contact Pippa Kirkham, Kielder Forest, Eals Burn, Bellingham, Hexham, Northumbria NE48 2AT. Tel:01434 250209; Marina Churm, Whinlatter Visitor Centre, Braithwaite, Keswick, Cumbria. Tel: 017687 78469; Sarah Wiseman, Grizedale Visitor Centre, Ambleside, Cumbria. Tel: 01229 860373.

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