Recycling and Upcycling: Unveiling the Masterpieces of Art

'Halleluyah: Recycling and Upcycling Le Salon de Refuses' - Bernice Steinbaum brings together art and fashion to form a unique experience.

By Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta

Updated 12:02 am EDT, October 9, 2023

Published 11:15 pm EDT, September 11, 2023

Photo Credits: Flávio Iryoda

On a mildly sauna-like Saturday in Miami, Bernice Steinbaum stood in the entry to the Green Space gallery. She wore a gorgeous black dress, elegantly structured yet surprisingly light with its crisp noir fabric. She had a mischievous smile and gleefully waved us in to show off the gathered artists and designers. Bernice loves the unexpected, and she curated art pieces that doubled as fashion with a message. The artists presenting at “Halleluyah: Recycling and Upcycling Le Salon de Refuses” had a common thread. They made upcycled bits and pieces of fabric into art that were greater and more intriguing than the sum of their parts.

You could sense the crowd’s eagerness to see as you walked through the gallery. And, more importantly, talk about the pieces and their histories.

Bernice Steinbaum brings upcycled art to Miami with her exhibit "Halleluyah: Recycling and Upcycling Le Salon des Refuse"
Bernice Steinbaum and "La Drama" by Enrique Gomez de Molina. Beetle wings, peacock feathers.

The Defeat of Roe vs. Wade by Shelly McCoy

Shelly McCoy presented “The Defeat of Roe vs. Wade.” A dress that, from a distance, was a gorgeous bustier and layered full skirt in creams and buttery yellows. As you peered closer, Shelly’s provocative sense of humor became apparent. The complete, beautiful dress was made entirely of condoms. The bustier was constructed with different knotted condoms in shades of yellow and tied to wire hangers. Shelly expressed outrage at losing a woman’s right to manage her body. She was excited to converse with spectators about her ideas and process in making this piece. Shelly was exciting to see because, like many great artists, she enveloped complex opinions and statements with beauty and whimsy to engage the view on multiple levels.

"The Defeat of Roe vs Wade" by Shelly McCoy. Condoms, wire hangers, ribbon, plastic.

Incredible Angel by Karelle Levy

A jaw-dropping beautiful knit angelic dress in warm shades of sand, cocoa, and glittering gold was presented in its custom nook. Karelle Levy made an original version of this dress for use on a runway. The dress was returned to her in pieces after the event. Karelle remembered all the intense work and love she had given to the original garment. She was determined to renew it to even more extraordinary beauty. The result is a piece of art that hung over a corner like a protective and glorious angel. Karelle gave us a sly smile and said it was ready to return to the runway.

"Incredible Angel" by Karelle Levy. Re-purposed viscose yarn donated by knitwear producer Myrrhia.

Memorias de Cabimas by Lisu Vega

A recycling and upcycling show is nothing without the presence of Lisu Vega.  She showed off two of her Avant-garde pieces called “Memorias de Cabimas.” Lisu used recycled thread, rope, and bits of fabric in a riot of bright colors to create a stunning long gown and headpiece next to a long-sleeved jacket and custom boots. She is primarily an uncanny artist who can create edgy, breathtaking clothes basking in their complexity, texture, and vision. Lisu and her husband also wore some of her beautiful pieces at the event. Which only strengthened the, at times cliched, term “wearable art.”

Lisu Vega (right) and her husband Juan Henriquez (left). "Memorias de Cabimas" by Lisu Vega. Recycled materials from an overlock machine, thread rope and fabrics.

Resurgence of Time by Gussy Lopez and Paquita Parodi

There was also an eye-catching bustier and bottom presented, which was a collaboration between Paquita and Gussy Lopez. Paquita is a charming, alluring woman from Spain who has collected approximately 20,000 dresses, fabrics, hooks, zippers, and buttons. All categorized by epoch. As I spoke to the beautifully clad Paquita, her story of collection and love of fabrics shone through. I immediately wondered how to get an invitation to this magical place filled with her life’s work. Gussy Lopez, her collaborator, was enthusiastic in explaining the history of the pieces used to create the artistic garment. One could see the meticulous care in combining the elements from a single era supported on a dressmaker form that heralded the same time.

"Resurgence of Time (Uses and Abuses of History)" by Gussy Lopez (left) in collaboration with Paquita Parodi (right). Antique mannequin circa 1880, leather, fabric and vintage lace.

Miami International University of Art & Design

That Miami International University (MIU) and AVESSA have a long collaboration tradition regarding recycling and upcycling is no news. To raise increased awareness, MIU develops a project with The Upcycle Project every year. This year, students presented their creations based on uniforms from WM (Waste Management). Take advantage of the editorial and learn more about the challenges of recycling in the fashion industry due to the difficulty of recycling blended fabrics and other materials. The critical point is that the fashion industry is not easily recyclable due to various materials used in clothing, such as blended fibers and non-degradable materials like polyester. It emphasizes that simply labeling materials as “recycled” or “circular” doesn’t address overproduction and waste.

Miami International University of Art & Design showcased upcycled uniforms from WM (Waste Management). From left to right: Alejandro Barzaga, Nestor Camacho, Charlene Parsons, Francys Herrera, Judith Cabrera.

Puzzle Piece by Andrea Spiridonakos

“Puzzle Piece” was presented by Andrea Spiridonakos, an artist and dedicated designer of up-cycled one-of-a-kind couture. This modern, elegant dress was made using dozens of antique kimonos with intricate embroidery and imagery. Looking closely, you can see that Andrea was forced to hand-repair pieces of the delicate aging kimonos and piece them together. The dress is shockingly clever in its structure. It is not a traditional symmetrical dress since Andrea had only small pieces, not meters of fabric, to work with. Still, she succeeded in creating a stunning dress that is a puzzle, creating something grander than the individual pieces.

"Puzzle Piece" by Andrea Spiridonakos. Upcycled kimonos.

La Drama by Enrique Gomez de Molina

Enrique Gomez de Molina combined a vintage mink coat, feathers, and antique decorative tear-shaped pieces in vibrant emerald and lapis lazuli to make a stunning sculpture. It was an alluring piece that can be seen from different perspectives. Perhaps a magical cloak enveloping a mysterious woman or a preening peacock standing up for attention. Enrique loves to work with antique mediums to create eye-popping sculptures.

"La Drama" by Enrique Gomez de Molina. Beetle wings, peacock feathers.

Bernice has an obvious talent for curating and bringing together some of the most exciting and creative fashion art, giving Miami another reason to cheer for her. As I left the gallery, I had to smile as Bernice Steinbaum tirelessly continued to engage and beam her warmth and love of her guests and protégées. Le Salon des Refuses was a success and a chance to understand that recycling and upcycling is not simply reusing. This artistic endeavor creates and elevates older garments and remnants into breathtaking art.

Halleluyah: Recycling and Upcycling Le Salon des Refuse
Curated by Bernice Steinbaum

From September 2 to October 19, 2023

Green Space Miami
7200 Biscayne Boulevard,
Unit 1 and Unit 2
Miami, FL 33138
(305) 751 – 8816

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By Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta
By Alfonso de Hoyos-Acosta