‘Second Nature: Junk Rethunk’ at the Philadelphia Zoo features art made out of trash

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PHILADELPHIA >> Back in the day, when there was a fender-bender on the road and somebody’s bumper was dented, the body shop would pound it out.
A few swings of the hammer, and the dent would be gone. The bumper, maybe it wouldn’t look like new, but would certainly be close to smooth.
Now, most bumpers on cars are made of plastic. They can’t be pounded out. They don’t dent, they crack. A hammer would only do more damage.
So, the bumpers are just replaced, but, what happens to those old bumpers?
“We traveled around the neighborhood to auto repair shops, who routinely discard damaged bumpers,” said Pk Kimelman, a member of the San Francisco based FLUX Foundation. “That’s a huge amount of waste.”
So, the FLUX Foundation cut up the bumpers to make leaves for the stems of their massive sculpture highlighting flowers and butterflies called “Bloom,” which now welcomes visitors right past the entrance to the Philadelphia Zoo. It is part of the “Second Nature: Junk Rethunk,” an art exhibit that spreads throughout the grounds.
“Bloom” — and the rest of the exhibits — is made entirely out of recycled materials and will remain at the zoo through Halloween.
“Many of these pieces are larger than life-size interpretations of species future generations of Zoo visitors may never see if we don’t take steps to preserve habitat,” said Vikram H. Dewan, CEO and president of the Philadelphia Zoo. “The artists participating in Second Nature are some of the world’s most creative conservation heroes.”
The zoo was able to get 12 different artists to create the sculptures that show up.
There’s a giant yellow bird right near the fountain created by the Cracking Art Group, based out of Milan, Italy. Cracking Art has also set up colorful rabbits, meerkats, frogs, snails and bears all made from recycled plastic.
Artist Aurora Robinson created an abstract root system from more than 3,000 plastic bottles that hangs overhead when entering the McNeil Avian Center. Underneath the roots is a full-size crocodile made out of chewing gum by Italian artist Maurizio Savini.

One of the creations part of 'Second Nature: Junk Rethunk' at the Philadelphia Zoo. Photo by Vince Carey/Digital First Media

One of the creations part of ‘Second Nature: Junk Rethunk’ at the Philadelphia Zoo.
Photo by Vince Carey/Digital First Media

There are two polar bear cubs, each weighing more than 300 pounds, that James Corbett of Australia created by using nothing but old spark plugs. Philadelphia’s Leo Sewell made a rhino out of 250 serving trays and other pieces of dinnerware collected from curbs, junk sales and scrap piles.
“Junk Rethunk is a great way of having people to think about our natural resources,” said Cindy Adams Dunn, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “Not only is the re-use of junk the obvious thing of reducing litter, but it prevents the need in the future of additional quarries. It prevents the need for additional landfills. It does so many things for the environment and, by taking that first step, youth and adults open their eyes to their relationship with nature.”
Meanwhile, a couple of new, giant gorillas are also eye-catchers as part of “Second Nature.”
Sitting right near the primates is a 9-foot-tall gorilla made completely out of recycled cardboard by Montreal native Laurence Vallieres. The gorilla, which made its original debut in 2012 at the Festival Montreal en Lumieres, was rebuilt on zoo grounds by Vallieres.
Just down the block from “Gorille en carton” is the “Blue Gorilla,” by Don Kennell. The 13-foot-tall structure is made out of recycled car doors. The gorilla has one hand on a knee and the other holding a up an old taxi-cab door.
The piece is supposed to remind visitors that saving energy by recycling is just one way to save gorillas and other animals whose ecosystems are affected by climate change.
“That gorilla will be remembered by everybody who walks through the zoo,” Dewan said.
“Bloom,” meanwhile, lights the way to the rest of the exhibit. The center of flowers are made using old traffic lights.
“When the zoo approached us, they immediately wanted to talk about recycling and re-purposing,” said Kimmelman. “We had an existing sculpture that had been on an extensive tour and had literally come to the end of its life cycle. So, we thought it would be very interesting to re-purpose and recycle art itself. The structure of the piece, the steel, is all recycled from an earlier work.
“Then we stripped it down to its core and re-imagined it using other materials. The zoo asked us to consider butterflies, which are endangered because of the flowers they eat, milkweed, is endangered because of climate change and all the pressures.”
The structure was first assembled in California, then taken apart and put back together at the zoo.
“We assembled it here in the course of a week, day and night, with a team of 12 people” said Kimmelman. “So, our work is to bring people together, not only in the creation of the piece, but also the piece itself is really about getting people to drop their guard and to engage each other and really talk about the issues.”
Or, so the zoo hopes, to rethink what anybody can do with some junk.


What: “Second Nature: Junk Rethunk”
Where: Philadelphia Zoo,
3400 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia.
Admission: Zoo admission is $20 for adults, $18 for ages 2 to 11 and free
for children under 2.
Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., every day through Nov. 1 and 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Nov. 2 through Feb. 28 except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve,
and New Year’s Day.
Info.: Check www.philadelphiazoo.org.

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