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The M’sian immortalising endangered animals using the very waste that can kill them

With dapao (takeaway) culture on the rise, the inevitable plastic waste issue is haunting us more than ever now. As some do their part in offering plastic alternatives or introducing more recycling methods, etc., this Malaysian is turning the crisis into an educational opportunity. 

“We decided to raise awareness through making sculptures with discarded plastic food containers and at the same time, show people that the material is worth a second life,” Oscar Lee, one of the artists behind Co2, shared with Vulcan Post. 

Co2 is an art project that upcycles waste into sculptures. Currently, they’re working on a project called Hutan Tutan which features plastic sculptures of endangered animals in Malaysia.

Oscar sculpting trash into something beneficial / Image Credit: Co2

From architecture to sculpting

Besides Oscar, Celine, his partner, is also part of the team behind Co2, which was founded in 2017. The pair met at Taylor’s Lakeside and both of them graduated in architectural design. As of now, they’re based in Muar. 

Oscar was never a sculptor himself, but he did build a lot of models back then in university. “I’d say I was inspired by a TV show called ‘Art Attack’ during my childhood and with my mum’s company, I always managed to do some crafts or sculptures together with her.”

Prior to Hutan Tutan, the very first project that the duo got into was Eyes of the Guardian, which was an art installation made with discarded shuttlecocks and aluminium cans. 

The shuttlecocks that created this fearsome beast / Image Credit: Co2

Hutan Tutan is a project dedicated to raising awareness of endangered animals in Malaysia through 10 different animal sculptures. Each sculpture will be placed in a primary school in different Johor districts.

These animal sculptures will be colourless and transparent, and Oscar explained that this idea is a metaphor for endangered species leaving its skin or shell which is usually transparent. 

“Just like a cicada or snake doing a skin shed, endangered species leave only their skin before they disappear. We know a cicada was around because we spotted its skin, but this also shows that we know it’s not around anymore.”

Since they’re raising awareness in schools, Oscar and Celine partnered with an ecology educator, who will join them to give talks in their school visitations on endangered species and how to protect the environment.

Primary schools were chosen because young kids are very receptive to such knowledge and hold affection for animals and wildlife, something that Oscar himself experienced as a child.

Do you know your wildlife well enough to name this animal? / Image Credit: Co2

Actively seeking plastic trash

To make sculptures as big as they do requires sourcing massive amounts of plastic, and the duo is currently outsourcing this from the local community in Muar.

They’ve shared their studio address publicly so that people can drop off their plastic containers at their gate, which the two would then wash and let dry under the sun before using them for the sculptures. 

“For now we only ask help from those in Muar because the first animal will be placed at one of the primary schools at Muar, which is where I live. Another reason why we chose Muar as the location for our first sculpture is because we couldn’t cross borders, so it’s easier to start here first,” Oscar clarified. 

Speaking of which, the first sculpture will be the Malayan Tapir, which is 1m in height and 2m in length. The tapir is already 85% done and has used up 280 pieces of plastic thus far, but they still need an additional 70 pieces to complete it. 

Working with your regular dapao containers / Image Credit: Co2

Breathing life into waste

After the tapir, the pair shared that they’ll sculpt the Malayan Tiger, Asian Elephant, Bornean Orangutan, Sunbear, Gaur, Proboscis Monkey, Sumatran Rhinoceros (already extinct), Black Leopard, and Siamang (the largest of the gibbons).

The Johorean districts in which they’re planning to place these sculptures are Batu Pahat, Mersing, Tangkak, Kota Tinggi, Johor Bahru, Kulai, Kluang, Pontian, and Segamat. For convenience, each district’s sculpture will have its plastic waste sourced from the local community, and the sculpture will be created there too.

“For this whole project, we estimate around 4,750 pieces of plastic will be saved,” Oscar told Vulcan Post. 

All the plastic waste donated to them are used in the sculptures, and they emphasised that even if there are plastics that aren’t suitable for one sculpture, they’ll keep them for future potential projects or to be used as packaging for their upcoming ones. 

A plastic project they did previously sculpting villains / Image Credit: Co2

Their subjects aren’t even familiar to them

Because neither of them have seen any of these animals in person, ideation was a struggle for them since they can only picture them from the Internet. So Oscar and Celine must study their anatomy tediously through documentaries to capture their figures accurately.

Moreover, working with plastic isn’t easy, especially when they have to deal with stubborn food residue like oils which are hard to wash off, as well as the smell of plastic burnt off using their heat gun while sculpting. To help with this, they’ll wear a gas mask and make sure the space is properly ventilated while they’re at it. 

The cost of running Co2 isn’t much of an issue, since the bulk of raw materials they’d need comes from crowdsourcing, after all. But what Oscar and Celine struggle with is time, since they have their own jobs and can only work on the project on the side. To add, it’s not something that they’re monetising.

“This project needs at least a year to be completed. After this, we plan to do something related to our ocean pollution, or marine life. I’ll also explore new materials, plastic or not, and see how it goes,” Oscar said.

The only real-life animals they have / Image Credit: Co2

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The idea of turning waste into something new has been around for a while, even in Malaysia. One duo that has been turning trash into robot toy masterpieces is IBFCM, for example.

Overseas, many sculptors and artists have tried to give plastic waste a second life too. Oscar and Celine don’t seem to have any plans to monetise their hobby at the moment, but if they wanted to, they could probably target art collectors with niche tastes.

If their idea gains traction and attention too, perhaps they could work on paid projects with schools to bring Co2 to the rest of Malaysia, to the benefit of children’s education. One thing that Co2 would need to be wary of is how the sculptures will be handled and disposed of in the future.

There will probably come a day when the schools no longer wish to keep them and they’ll be too out of shape to keep fixing. Co2 would then need to work with the schools to recycle the waste or reuse them for another project. Either way, it should not go back to being just pollution.

  • You can learn more about Co2 here.
  • You can read about more eco-friendly initiatives we’ve written here.  

Featured Image Credit: Oscar and Celine, founders and sculptors of Co2

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