July 16, 2012
I learned about Bill Culbert’s plastic bottle sculptures via Unconsumption.
Reading up on him, I saw that he once referred to himself as a “throwaway conservationist” —a designation which seems to imply that it’s thrown-away objects, rather than “nature” that he’s interested in conserving.
One formative experience: a boyhood brush with booby-trapped WWII packaging…
Early in life, Bill Culbert learnt to look closely at things. He recalls, as a boy in Wellington during World War II, collecting tin cans on the beach near Moa Point after a storm. The nine-year-old beachcomber recognised the tins by their colourful lids — they usually contained 50 cigarettes a piece — and took home all 10 he found. Upon opening one of the lids and peering in, however, he noticed some unusual wiring connecting it to the base of the tin. He quickly pressed the lid shut. When his father arrived home that evening, the radio was switched on and the family listened to an emergency broadcast warning Wellingtonians that a consignment of booby-trapped tin cans had been washed off the deck of an American military vessel in Cook Strait. Soon after, the army’s bomb disposal squad was removing the tins from the Culberts’ front garden, where they were stacked amid all the other flotsam…
Moa Point was close by the Strathmore dump, and Culbert would set off after school either to the beach, to see what had washed in, or to the adjacent mound of rubbish, where he would collect not only wheels, suitcases and bottles, but also less predictable fare. “The New Zealand Film Unit would dump unbelievable mountains of film at the dump. I used to take cans of film home and look at them with a torch under the bed.” Between the wiring of the explosive cigarette tins and the recycled newsreels, Culbert may well have gleaned an early sense of the unpredictability, wonder and imaginative potential — as well as risks — to be found in the most familiar objects.
Gregory O’Brien, The Light Fantasic
(See also: German Chocolate Grenade)
Although Culbert has done lots of interesting sculptures using plastic bottles penetrated by fluorescent lighting, it’s by no means his only body of work.
(More of Bill Culbert’s bottle/light sculptures, after the fold…)
Black on White I – IV (installation details), 2004, fluorescent lights, electrical cords, plastic bottles, acrylic paint
See also: On the Shelf