Turning Plastic Into High Fashion

Using 90,000 plastic bottles, he created a clothing line. And now this artist has been awarded $625,000 through the MacArthur "genius" grant.

How will you rise?

This artist transformed 90,000 plastic bottles into a clothing line. Mel Chin uses art to visualize issues like Flint’s lead-poisoned water and climate change. In 2018, that same year, his mixed reality experience, “Unmoored,” depicted Times Square 26 feet underwater.

“When I went to Flint, the people questioned me there, like, “What kind of project do you have in mind because how are you going to use us now?” And I'm glad they asked that and they challenged me. I said Well you know I'll pay you to fill this tractor trailer full load plastic bottles and then I'm gonna take them down to company that transforms it into cloth and I'll take it to the fashion designer and she will design rainwear and swimwear patterns out of that and now they're suing Tracy Reese designs in Flint. I do feel that art is more a catalytic structure that provides an option that did not happen yet. It is a surreal experience invented to connect us with our reality. It is not about convincing you to believe in climate change or not believe in climate change. It is there to provoke a question like 'How will you rise?' And that's the most important contribution, I think we all can make,” the artist says.

Chin's opus defies categorization — he's worked with media from animated films and ecological installations in landfills to immersive virtual reality exhibitions in Times Square. Chin is also a Black Mountain College Legacy Fellow at UNC Asheville and worked closely with UNCA students in the creation and installation of "mixed-reality" projects "Wake" and "Unmoored" in Times Square in the summer of 2018. He's a passionate advocate for the environment and much of his work revolves around climate change. Now, he’s one of the 2019 MacArthur Genius Grant winners where fellows receive a $625,000 stipend to support creativity and address social challenges.