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Refuse Refuge


Materials: recycled bicycle tubes + valves, bicycle spokes, canvas, nylon mesh

Model: Melanie June 

By 3446, we humans will be the extraterrestrials, the foreign aliens that we have dreamt about. What will our broken planet look like? What will humans look like as they climb from the wreckage of a planet they have destroyed through industry and carelessness? How will they rebuild themselves on a planet they have destroyed?


Refuse Refuge envisions the alien human in this far-off distant timeline, seeking to understand what we will become as a result of our own destructive qualities. We will have to seek refuge in our refuse, our trash, the insurmountable pile of garbage that we are piling up around our planet, even as we speak. Today is our starting point, 3446 is where we will land. The only way that a human will survive and come to play on the galactic stage is by resurrecting themselves using that which they left behind: garbage.


For this reason, Refuse Refuge is battle armor for the alien human made exclusively from non-biodegradable garbage. It is made exclusively from bicycle inner tubes, an object that is carelessly discarded and difficult to recycle, a piece of rubbish that is thrown into the landfills and stacked in layers that will remain for millennia. In the year 3446 I imagine an Earth that is vacant and bleak, nearly-decimated by our own devices. And yet humans will still remain, like cockroaches, adapting and changing to suit the new atmosphere they have created. To rise again, we will have to build ourselves armor and protect ourselves with all that we have left--our trash.


Bicycle tubes were a natural material to use: they are tough, they do not dry rot or decompose, they are strong and powerful, they can be molded into armor. And we have a surplus of them. Every tube was pulled from the trash can of a bicycle shop around the city of Chicago. Every tube was rescued from the inevitable pile of trash that is thrown into the dump. 


But beyond building our future from the rubble of the garbage we left behind, the people who build our future will be the people that we are currently leaving behind. Globally, we are currently pitting ourselves against groups of people who are not like the rest. We fight to deny rights to women, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, people of color. We leave them behind, and that is what will become our weakness. On the base of the Statue of Liberty, a poem commands that we should welcome all:


“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me . . .”


Refuse Refuge is a play on words--it is both seeking to create a refuge from the waste that we have left behind, and it is also a desire to REFUSE to seek refuge, to choose to fight back. Those who we currently turn away will be those who are strong enough to rise from the ashes of our burning planet and fix it. By denying them their rights now, they are gathering the strength to fight back longer and harder. They refuse to be invisible. They are the future that will be strong enough to rebuild the world.


Refuse Refuge is a warrior woman, a woman who is building her future from the rubble of the past. She is a fighter who refuses to be ignored, who refuses to hide and chooses to resist instead.

This outfit was the winner of the Sustainability Award and Runner-Up Supreme Award and at World of WearableArt in Wellington, NZ in 2017.

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