Olivia d'Aboville on Transforming Waste Into Wonder

Her work for Art Fair Philippines 2019 promises to be "more literal, more 'in your face.'"

by Christa I. De La Cruz
Jan 23, 2019
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(SPOT.ph) At this point, most of us have already heard (and hopefully, are taking steps to help change the fact) that the Philippines is the "third-worst polluter into the world's oceans." You'd think that as a country surrounded by water, and highly dependent on intricate river systems and river basins, we'd be more conscious when it comes to managing our waste. Sadly, that's not the case. This reality is what often inspires French-Filipino artist Olivia d'Aboville's art; and for Art Fair Philippines 2019 on February 22 at The Link in Makati, she's hoping to shine a light on the issue of plastic pollution.

From Chasm of Fantasies to Everything, Everywhere, Everyone

"For the art fair, I wanted to go back to [Chasm of Fantasies] because I think the issue is so crucial," the 32-year-old says in an interview with SPOT.ph.

Chasm of Fantasies, which opened in July 2010 at Ayala Museum in Makati, was her first solo show after returning from France. It featured mass-produced objects—from plastic spoons to disposable water bottles—put together to look like marine creatures. Its accompanying exhibition catalogue titled New Frontiers: Olivia d'Aboville, which was made in collaboration with Neal Oshima, offered a different kind of visual experience through the veteran photographer's use of strobes and ultraviolet lights. Eight years later, her love for the ocean, and her drive to help keep it clean, is as strong as ever, and she saw Art Fair Philippines as a timely platform to send her message.

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From Chasm of Fantasies (2010) at the Ayala Museum: "Holuthurie luminosa" made from cocktail stirrers and metal screen 
PHOTO BY Neal Oshima 
Olivia d'Aboville / website

"Aurelia aurita" made from fishnet and monofilament
PHOTO BY Neal Oshima 
Olivia d'AbovillE/ WEBSITe

"Lophelia sp." made from plastic spoons, nylon, and silver beads
PHOTO BY Neal Oshima 
Olivia d'Aboville / Website
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"Everyone's talking about climate change's effect on the environment. If feels like an abstract phenomenon because we can't see it day to day, except when there's a big calamity or natural disaster. But plastic pollution, especially in the ocean, is something that's very visible and it's related to climate change. So in that sense, people are more drawn to it because they see it. It's a good platform to address this message again because when I did [Chasm of Fantasies], we weren't really talking yet about being mindful of our plastic usage," the artist points out.

d'Aboville employs artisans from Sta. Mesa, Manila, to help her on her four simultaneous projects on top of the Art Fair Philippines show. 
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela

Her 185-meter fishnet piece for the upcoming fair is meant to be hanged.
PHOTO BY Vincent Coscolluela
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"I was thinking of something along the lines of Everything, Everywhere, Everyone," she says about the title for the show—signaling how plastic pollution is affecting everything, everywhere, and everyone.

But unlike Chasm, which was very poetic, her upcoming show is "more literal, more 'in your face'" with pieces mostly made up of trash. Her central work is a 185-meter by two-meter fishnet—from her pile of nets bought in 2010—sewn with strips of trash. You might see remnants from packs of your favorite snacks, shampoo sachets, and other single-use plastics sewn directly onto the nylon. "I was thinking of something along the lines of Everything, Everywhere, Everyone," she says about the title for the show—signaling how plastic pollution is affecting everything, everywhere, and everyone.

Another work-in-progress is a square-shaped canvas sewn with small squares of trash grouped by color. "This will be a mosaic of plastic bits. Plastic has no value, but using it this way and stitching is a very tedious process. That's how I inject the value in the work," d'Aboville explains about her ongoing work.

d'Aboville specializes in tapestry and textile structures. Most of her woven creations are commissioned by hotels PHOTO: Vincent Coscolluela

Transforming lives by transforming plastic

For the upcoming fair at The Link, d'Aboville is expected to fill a 10-meter space. "I think that represents four or five parking slots. I'm feeling the pressure right now," she confesses. According to her, it’s a stroke of luck that she’s collaborating on another piece with The Plastic Flamingo—a French social company that arrived in the Philippines in August 2018.

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Also known as The Plaf, the group is on a mission to collect and recycle plastic waste in developing countries. They partnered with Envirotech Waste Recycling, a Filipino company established in 2010 that makes benches and chairs out of soft plastics and donates them to schools. "They collect, clean, shred the plastic. Then, make it into what looks like paste. It's super low-tech," the artist explains.

Chairs and planks by Envirotech Waste Recycling Envirotech Waste Recycling / Facebook

Planks or "earthboards" installed at Forbes Park Envirotech Waste Recycling / Facebook
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The two environmental groups work to collect trash by coordinating with local government units. This way, they go directly to the source of the waste and "not wait until it’s dispatched into the environment." The waste will then be transformed into big plastic planks that can be assembled into shelters in case of calamities.

d’Aboville wants to use these planks and create a large-scale wall-bound piece for Art Fair Philippines. "It's just layering. It resembles also my work because my work is a lot of pleats, layering, repetition. It's the same vibe, but here we'll be speaking the layers of plastic that are now entering the earth's crust," she narrates.

Olivia d'Aboville says with much conviction: I think the message is strong enough so hopefully I'm able to create something that engages. PHOTO: Vincent Coscolluela

A child of the ocean and of art

This appreciation for nature started when d’Aboville’s family would go to Puerto Galera on weekends. Her parents own a house at the popular beach destination on the island of Mindoro, which is known for having one of the most amazing diving spots in the Philippines. It’s no wonder that the ocean has become her "endless inspiration."

The use of plastic to create art, on the other hand, was born out of necessity while she was studying art and design in France. "As a student in an expensive city like Paris, you have to be resourceful. Plastic is everywhere, and it's free so I would ask my friends to collect whatever packaging they have," she says. The French people’s conscientiousness when it comes to segregating and being mindful of their waste also influenced her.

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Surface (2016) at Altro Mondo, Makati City Olivia d'aboville / website

Blue (2015) at Art Informal, San Juan City courtesy of art informal; olivia d'aboville / website

d'Aboville attended Ateliers de Sèvres—a preparatory school for art students—from 2003 to 2004, majored in textile design at Superior School of Art Françoise Conte from 2004 to 2007, and specialized in textile structures at the Duperré School of Applied Arts from 2007 to 2009.

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Being in the arts was as natural to her as breathing. "We were always kind of into it," she says. Her father’s mother, siblings, and cousins are all artists in some way. Even her in-laws are artists, one of them being multimedia artist Maria Jeona Zoleta.

When asked how she ended up choosing textile and found objects over the more traditional medium, d'Aboville shares: "I painted when I was very young. It wasn't that good, it was okay. While I was here, I thought it was great. When I went to France, it's like...bad." She had her first exhibit at the age of four after joining a painting workshop conducted by French artist Madame Raymonde Le Gal.

"Spoons" (2008) for a group exhibit at La Grande Halle, Paris olivia d'aboville / website

"I painted when I was very young. It wasn't that good, it was okay. While I was here, I thought it was great. When I went to France, it's like...bad."

"Coral Garden" (2011) installation at City Gallery, Marina Bay, Singapore olivia d'aboville / website
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Eventually, she found folding, stitching, and putting things together to be "very soothing." She would collect a certain number of similar objects—plastic spoons for example, as in Chasm of Fantasies—and visualize it in various forms while playing around with the items. "I think I like the process, and I like that it takes a lot of time. I like repetition," she adds.

This Zen-like attitude seems to work for d’Aboville. While working on her pieces for Art Fair Philippines, she’s also doing four commissioned projects—mostly textile art for hotels—and preparing for two group shows in February and March. All this, on top of taking care of a three-year-old-son. "Since he was born, my schedule has been more adapted to him. I work shorter hours now because of my lifestyle. But I have to be so efficient."

With a month left before the big day, d’Aboville is on her last hurdle to put together a lot of trash and transform them into a moving piece of art. If you happen to drop by Art Fair Philippines come February, this would be the perfect piece to storm social media with.

Art Fair Philippines 2019 runs from February 22 to 24 at The Link, Parkway Drive, Ayala Center, Makati City. For more information, visit Art Fair Philippines' website.

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