No, we're not talking about portraits of your animal buddies. Czech sculptor Veronika Richterova's creations give a whole new meaning to the term "recyclable art." Since 2004, the 47-year old graduate of the Czech School of Art and Design has been scouring containers to make a world of her own from objects that generally end up in the trash: plastic PET bottles. Today, her fanciful PET-spiders (Photo 1), tiger lilies, flying foxes and chandeliers (Photo 2) are touring remote corners of the globe under the auspices of the Czech Foreign Ministry.
thalo: What inspires you about PET bottles?
Veronika Richterova: The discovery – it’s something completely new.
th: Did someone teach you the technique?
VR: No, I stumbled on it by chance. I was using the hot air pistol on some metal things and I turned it on the PET bottle… I found out the bottle shrinks when heat is applied and I occurred to me they could be used for sculpture… I took me months and years to figure out the technique. I’m still perfecting it and discovering new tricks today.
th: What tools do you use?
VR: A soldering iron and a hot-air gun – whatever produces heat. Now I’m trying to overcome the size limitations imposed by the bottles so I can work in larger dimensions.
th: Can you weld them together?
VR: Not really. Once you melt the plastic, it becomes brittle. I use mechanical joints, made from the PET bottles to preserve the purity of the material. At first I looked high and low for some transparent glue, but that plastic is completely resistant to it.
th: Haven’t you done some international exhibitions?
VR: I have one, called “Homage to PET bottles,” that’s been travelling around the world for a few years. We’re not even sure where all it’s been. It’s organized through a Czech Foreign Ministry program that sends out DVDs with photos of artworks for galleries to display in the form of panels. I’ve found out in the oddest way that they have been shown as far away as Ghana and Mozambique. Just now they’re going from town to town in Lithuania.
th: Does your work inspire people?
VR: Recently I did a children’s project for a Prague gallery. I was inspired by Mexico’s Valley of the Monarch butterflies (Photo 3). The kids made their own butterflies out of PET bottles and attached them to recycled Christmas trees using the screw tops. Both they and their parents got a huge kick out of that.
th: Does your work have a deeper theme?
VR: I’m inspired by what life sends my way. I don’t have any thought-out plan…I love nature and its variations, as much as historical objects, such as Venetian chandeliers and mirrors. [I also enjoy] working within the technical limits – seeing how far I can take things.
th: What was the first thing you made?
VR: A “crystal” chandelier from clear PET bottles….. Back when I was studying drawing at the UMPRUM, I wanted to switch to glassmaking, but at that time it was impossible. So I guess I subconsciously substituted PET bottles for glass.
th: Is there anything that can’t be done?
VR: I’m sure there is. But it makes me happier to focus on what can.