Ideas / Processes / Histories



  1. Introduction

  2. Key Definitions

  3. Histories

  4. Conclusion


Introduction


I have heard a lot about climate change over the past couple of years, but I have never really understood it, given any attention to the buzz, or seen any relationship with it and the work I created. This was before I began to notice the gradual increase in daytime and nighttime temperatures. We experience daily temperatures between 25 and 35 degrees Celsius where I live and work in Ghana. With Ghana's temperature rising from 28.10 degrees Celsius in 2020 to 28.30 degrees Celsius in 2021[1]. Today's temperature (17/2/23) is 31 degrees Celsius as I type this; it’s hot and not just today but for the past six months. Which made me wonder: is there a connection between this and the climate? If so, exactly what is climate change? 

Simply expressed, climate change is the phrase used to describe long-term changes in the typical weather patterns that have come to characterize the climate of the planet. Typically, this is brought on by an increase in the concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses (gasses including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxides, and water vapor[2]) in the atmosphere.

What is the reason for the rise in these chemicals?

There are many contributing factors, but in the context of my work as an artist and this research, two main factors are tire burning and tire heating under prolonged solar radiation. Tire burning releases cyanide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, benzene, metals like lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons like benzo(a)pyrene, and synthetic rubber components like butadiene and styrene[3][4]. Tire heating under prolonged solar radiationreleases methane.[5]

Simply put, as rubber tires heat up in the sun and burn in landfills around the world, pollutants are produced that have an adverse effect on the environment and pose health risks to various communities. But, we will need a lot of tires being burned or baked in the sun for a long time in order to produce a sizable amount of greenhouse gasses. How many tires were created throughout the course of the last 20 years is the next question. How many of these were recycled, incinerated, or dumped in landfills? It will be challenging to put a number on this, but we can make a simple calculation using bicycle tires without accounting for motors, planes, lawnmowers, or truck tires.

Over 100 million bikes were produced annually as of 2003, compared to 42 million cars, according to Wordometer.info[6]. According to the WorldWatch Institute, the number of bicycles produced worldwide in 2004 was 105 million, an increase of 1.5% over 2003. If pneumatic tires and inner tubes were included with every bicycle, there would be 210 million inner tubes and 105 million sets of pneumatic tires today. As tires have a 10-year lifespan on average, as of this writing, 210 million tires worldwide should either be thrown away, burned, or recycled. If they aren't recycled or up-cycled, they probably pose an environmental risk elsewhere in the world.

As was previously indicated, despite how impressive they may look, these estimates do not take into account pneumatic tires used by motorcycles and trucks. Globally, there is an increasing need to limit the quantity of greenhouse gasses that people, companies, and communities release. For me, upcycling waste synthetic polymer waste serves as a start in that direction because it provides the major medium or source material for my sculpture compositions.


Key Definitions in quotes


Climate change


A shift in a location's typical weather is referred to as a climate change. The amount of rain that a location typically receives each year may have changed. Or it might be a deviation from a location's typical temperature for a month or season. The weather is subject to rapid change. Changes in the climate however might take hundreds of years or even millions.

Conceptual art


According to Tate, “Conceptual art is art for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art object. It emerged as an art movement in the 1960s and the term usually refers to art made from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.”[7]


Polymer Waste


According to Dr. Helmenstine Ph.D, “A polymer is a large molecule made up of chains or rings of linked repeating subunits, which are called monomers”. [8] There are two types of polymers: natural (e.g. rubber, cellulose, silk, wool ) and synthetics (e.g. polypropylene, silicone, polyethylene, acrylic resins, polyurethane and vulcanized rubber). Since synthetic polymeric materials are difficult to break down, disposing of waste polymers presents a significant, long-term environmental challenge.


Histories


Rubber inner-tubes are what I use at work and have a black leather-like appearance. They were first created from natural rubber, which is derived from the rubber tree; a plant that is primarily grown in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, China, Malaysia and Philippines just to name a few. Nevertheless, synthetic rubbers like Butyl rubber have been created over time for use in inner tubes. This is partly caused by an increase in the need for rubber as well as the added qualities that make them stronger, have good aging properties, and are less gas-impervious, among other scientific properties[9].

According to Britannia.com, “Butyl rubber was first produced by American chemists William Sparks and Robert Thomas at the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now Exxon Corporation) in 1937.”

You might wonder what an inner tube is and how it's used.

An inner-tube is only an air-filled rubber ring-shaped inflated tube that is inserted inside a tire (pneumatic tyre). While the outer tire offers grip and guards this more delicate tube, this tube gives the car or bicycle structural stability and suspension. Imagine it as a donut-shaped balloon that is hidden inside numerous truck, bicycle, and automobile tires.



When the "balloons" within pneumatic tires puncture, the cars become extremely unstable, increasing the likelihood of an accident. This, among other factors, influenced numerous automakers to switch to tubeless tires. Today's tubeless car tires are widely used. These more recent tubeless tires also function well with tire pressure monitoring systems, which can detect changes in tire pressure individually. Yet, the tires on a lot of big trucks, bicycles, and motorcycles still use inner tubes.

In order to provide some historical context, it should be noted that John Boyd Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire that requires inner tubes, whereas Frank Herzegh created the first tubeless tire.

It was all a dream

Butyl strips dancing in 3D


While working on a wearable art project made from plastic waste—discarded cooking oil gallons—I first bought strips of innertubes in 2019. I spent a lot of this time researching upcycling, sustainable fashion, and plastic trash. the core basis of my current work.

As I was heavily affected by fashion growing up, it has always been a part of my work. My mother is a fashion designer, and before she retired, she operated out of the house. After school, I frequently found myself there playing, observing, and even experimenting with abandoned fabrics. As I got older, I discovered a passion for fashion, started reading books about it, and developed a liking for both grungy post-punk aesthetics and avant-garde designers like Comme des Garcons. I'm inspired by places with a heavy post-independence aesthetic presence, such as Jamestown in Accra, and others. I adore items that have a vintage, slightly worn-out vibe and are loaded with history.

All of these references came together in 2020, when I started learning a lot more about traditional African art and African aristocracy while working on another wearable art project. My moodboard was overflowing with blacks, golds, animal patterns, El Anatsui tapestries, and traditional african combs;  then I noticed the inner-tube strips I had recently bought amongst all the other pieces of clutter in my studio.

I'm looking for my voice.

Surrounded by a rainbow of colors

Nonetheless, I am blue.

Painting my new period, but I still despise every piece

God, I need to find myself.

I prayed alone in my room, and in my dreams, I saw rubber.


I uncovered other materials that equally raised environmental issues when I dug deeper into the subject of rubber inner tyres and made multiple journeys to markets and disposal sites, including polypropylene bags, broken bicycle parts, and registration plates. These resources, each with a compelling tale and history, have gradually filtered into my work as I steadily and continuously develop my visual narrative.



Conclusion


Finding sustainable ways to upcycle rubber and plastic trash is something I'm interested in as well as the impact of polymer waste on climate change. In my work, I research new ways to repurpose and upcycle wasted polymeric materials utilizing garment-making processes like weaving, patchwork and hand-stitching. This serves as a call for reflection and an open discourse on polymer waste and climate change.









[1]  “World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal.” Ghana - Climatology | Climate Change Knowledge Portal, climateknowledgeportal.worldbank.org. Accessed 20 Feb. 2023.

[2]  “FAQ: What Is the Greenhouse Effect?” Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet, 14 Feb. 2023, climate.nasa.gov/faq/19/what-is-the-greenhouse-effect.

[3] Tire fire - Wikipedia. (2020, June 26). Tire Fire - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tire_fire#:~:text=Extinguishing%20tire%20fires%20is%20difficult,products%20of%20butadiene%20and%20styrene.

[4] Tire Incineration | Energy Justice Network. (n.d.). Tire Incineration | Energy Justice Network. http://www.energyjustice.net/tires#:~:text=The%20fumes%20emitted%20are%20packed,such%20as%20butadiene%20and%20styrene).

[5] Equipment, E. G. (2021, January 5). Environmental Impacts of Waste Tire Disposal. Eco Green Equipment | Tire Shredders. https://ecogreenequipment.com/environmental-impacts-of-waste-tire-disposal/

[6] Bicycles produced in the world - Worldometer. (n.d.). Bicycles Produced in the World - Worldometer. https://www.worldometers.info/bicycles/

[7] Tate. “Conceptual Art | Tate.” Tate, 1 Jan. 1941, www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/c/conceptual-art.

[8] Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What Is a Polymer?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, www.thoughtco.com/definition-of-polymer-605912.

[9]  “All About Butyl Rubber - Properties, Applications, and Uses.” All About Butyl Rubber - Properties, Applications, and Uses, www.thomasnet.com/articles/plastics-rubber/all-about-butyl-rubber/#:~:text=Butyl%20rubber%20is%20the%20only,and%20has%20good%20aging%20properties. Accessed 19 Feb. 2023.
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