22 of the best art installations made from repurposed materials

Art installation of recycled CDs

When it comes to creating extraordinary interiors, a lot can be learned from installation art. For artists of every kind, there’s no such thing as waste – virtually anything can become a medium for expressing an idea. From barbed wire to toilet rolls, here are some of the coolest art installations that make us see everyday objects and materials in a whole new light.

Reclaimed plexiglass

Kolonihavehus reclaimed plexiglass art installation by Tom Fruin

Kolonihavehus is a stunning outdoor sculpture by American artist Tom Fruin. It’s constructed from a thousand pieces of reclaimed plexiglass salvaged from a closed down plexi distributor, a framing shop, the basement of the Danish State Art Workshops and skips outside the Danish Architecture Centre. Fruin collaborated with performance art ensemble CoreAct to create a celestial display of sound and light on the plaza of the Royal Danish Library.


Used building materials

Venice Architecture Biennale 2016 art installation by Alejandro Aravena

100 tonnes of waste generated at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2015 was reused for an installation at the 2016 Venice Biennale by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. The co-founder of Elemental reused 10,000 square metres of plaster board and 14km of metal studs to furnish both the Arsenale and the foyer of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. 

upcycled waste installation by Alejandro Aravena at venice architecture biennale 2016✦✦✦


Art installation made from CDs

WasteLandscape was a 500 square metre installation by artist Elise Morin and architect Clémence Eliard at the Halle d’Aubervilliers, a former funeral home turned art space in Paris. The artificial hilly landscape is blanketed with 65,000 waste CDs which were collected, sorted and then sewn together by hand to create an undulating and reflective surface.

Installation made from recycled CDs

In a statement from the artists, they say:

It is well known that CDs are condemned to gradually disappear from our daily life, and to later participate in the construction of immense open-air, floating or buried toxic waste reception centres. Made of petroleum, this reflecting slick of CDs forms a still sea of metallic dunes: the art work’s monumental scale reveals the precious aspect of a small daily object.

At the end of the installation’s tour, all of the CDs were recycled into polycarbonate. (Photos by Yannick Fradin, Martin Eliard, Marc Sirvin).


Water Lilies art installation made from recycled CDs by Bruce MunroBruce Munro is a lighting artist who has used recycled CDs in several of his art installations. For Water Lilies he transformed 65,000 CDs into giant water lilies at Longwood Park in Pennsylvania, famous for its homegrown Victoria lilies.

Water Lilies by Bruce Munro

The work was partly inspired by the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis, which depicts a sea of white lilies that signify the border between two worlds. It also draws inspiration from a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, Sky Above Clouds IV.


Portrait of John Lennon made from repurposed cassette tape

Erika Iris is a self-taught Chicago-based artist whose work focuses on data and memory, a post-modern response to pop-art in a series entitled Ghost in the Machine. Using tape from redundant media such as cassettes, her work resembles beautiful line drawings of famous faces.


Horse sculpture made from repurposed computer keys

Hedonism(y) Trojaner is a sculpture by Germany-based artist Babis Panagiotidis, a modern day Trojan horse made from recycled computer keys and cables. Just like the Trojan horse in Greek mythology, the sculpture reminds us that technology is something which appears to have harmlessly crept into our lives, yet hides something dark, damaging and dangerous underneath the surface.

Horse art installation by Babis Pangiotidis✦✦✦

Repurposed punch bags

Michael Kalish Muhammed Ali art installation

Michael Kalish has spent years perfecting the technique of twisting, cutting and riveting license plates to make iconic portraits. In 2011, he unveiled reALIzed an incredible image of Muhammed Ali made of 1,300 punch bags, 6.5 miles of steel cable, and 1.25 tons of aluminium pipe – an installation that took 3 years to complete. His reputable artwork has earned him an impressive client base of collectors including Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Ringo Starr and Muhammed Ali himself.



Art installations made from toilet rolls by Sakir Gokcebag

You wouldn’t let the Andrex puppy into this gallery. Trans-layers I and Trans-layers II are beautiful art installations made from the humble toilet roll by Hamburg based Turkish artist Sakir Gökcebag, with surprisingly majestic results. Gökcebag frequently uses everyday objects in his work such as clothes hangers, clocks, belts and spirit levels. 


Pop up bar in an Osaka gallery spaceIn Abeno, Osaka, local studio Naoya Matsumoto Design created a pop-up bar inside a gallery space that was once a row of houses. The interior, positioned behind a typical glass shopfront, was transformed with reams of crumpled translucent tracing paper, with the help of local residents. 

Bar interior walls lined with tracing paperThe cavernous rooms were dimly lit with just a few bare bulbs, highlighting the texture of the wrinkly walls and mottled concrete floors. Other industrial elements include chunky wooden benches and stools from which origami classes were held during the day. Photography by Takeshi Asano.

Pop up bar in Abeno art gallery


Barbed wire

Cloud barbed wire art installation

Susie MacMurray is renowned for using unconventional materials in her art installations. For Cloud (2015) at The Great Hall, Winchester, MacMurray’s latest installation is made from reclaimed military barbed wire and butterfly netting. The piece was commissioned for the culminating exhibition of Hampshire’s Big Theme ‘1914’ and is a response to conflict, loss, memory and commemoration, with particular reference to the First World War.

Detail of Cloud by Susie Macmurray



Capturing Resonance is a beautiful art installation by sculptor Soo Sunny Park and composer Spencer Topel. This is a multi-sensory space and ‘sculptural soundscape’ using chain-link fencing and plexi-glass. As the natural light shines in, the projected image shifts in colour and light throughout the day. 


Used lightbulbs

Ephemeral Rays (2013) is an art installation of burnt out lightbulbs by artist Charlotte Smith. It formed part of a Fine Art degree show at the University of Kent. The lightbulbs are designed to give the viewer a sense of the volume of space and light within the galvanising shop in Chatham Historic Dockyard. Dust particles on the lightbulbs become visible in the air through the rays of light and are a deliberate feature of the installation. Read more about the show here.


The Cloud Ceiling has been causing a stir at Progress Bar in Boystown, Chicago, an interactive installation of 15,000 re-appropriated incandescent lightbulbs. The artwork by Caitlind Brown and Garrett Wayne is the second of their lightbulb clouds.

Cloud ceiling art installation at Progress Bar

This is more than your average repurposed light fitting. The installation uses motion sensors and LED lights, matching the movement and energy of the crowd. A second miniature cloud is built to the back of the bar to create a cohesive feel.

Cloud installation at Progress bar


Wooden crates

Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata creates giant amorphous structures from found materials that he installs in public locations. Pictured above is Gandamaison (2008) at La Maréchalerie, Versailles. Structures made from wooden crates and boxes appear to engulf the buildings or flow out of them, transforming materials that are easily overlooked into something as imposing as the classical architecture they surround. Image via Kamel Mennour.


Yoghurt bottles

Milkywave was an installation by Aidia Studio for Beijing Design Week in 2012.  It was made of 1664 recycled glazed ceramic yoghurt bottles which formed a looping wave of light, radically transforming a humble space. The concept explored how the combination of familiar everyday material objects and cultural habits create the atmosphere and character of the city.

Milkywave installation made from repurposed materials


Plastic bags

Plastic bag art installations by Robert Janson

With that scene from American Beauty springing to mind, who would have thought the humble plastic bag could look so beautiful? This is an installation by Robert Janson, who uses plastic bags, light, heat and air to create something resembling a giant floating pink jellyfish. 

Art installations by Robert Janson

The installation process begins with Janson and his helpers inflating countless plastic bags until taut.  Janson then employs geometry, tying the bags into starburst groupings of six and eight, and joins them together. Gelled lights are added, creating a spectacular luminosity as the light passes through the transparent bags. 


Stuffed toys

Skin Rugs is a collection of recycled textile rugs made from disassembled stuffed animal toys by American interdisciplinary artist Agustina Woodgate. A play on the animal skin rug, she took the skins from unloved toys and stitched them together to create rugs that reference traditional designs and the personal stories of each teddy owner.

Other works include the Kaleidoscope Series (2011) comprised of fruit and veg labels and Waterfalling (2009), an installation which included a chandelier made from 36 yards of defective fishing line.  


Discarded wood


To mark the COP21 climate change conference in Paris 2015, a beautiful temporary reclaimed wood installation was built in the heart of the city in front of the Hôtel de Ville called thCircular Pavilion. The architectural collective Encore Heureux clad the structure in 180 reclaimed doors sourced from an apartment being renovated in Paris’ 19th arrondissement. Its name derives not from its shape therefore, but to highlight the benefits of a circular economy.


The rest of the pavilion was made from locally sourced materials, including stone wool from the disassembly of a supermarket roof; a floor composed of used wooden exhibition panels; furniture collected from junkyards in Paris; lighting from obsolete street lights and the windows are taken from Parisian building site surplus.

Circular Pavilion was actively used for a series of lectures, meetings and workshops which were free to the public. It was then dismantled and rebuilt at Paris’ 15th arrondissement to be used as a club house for a sports’ association.


Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down is a reclaimed wood sculpture by London art collective Robots>>>>. It formed part of the Festival of the World last year and featured two imposing figures made of reclaimed wood scaling the Hayward Gallery, one figure appearing to help the other.


The piece was made predominantly from wood and steel which was used at the Southbank Centre’s 2011 Festival of Britain, with help from children at the Oasis Children’s Venture in Lambeth. Robots>>>> is a team of artists who aim ‘to shine new light on public art’. Their influences include nature, geometry, science and science fiction. They work predominantly in reclaimed and recycled wood, old furniture and pieces that have been thrown away.


Artist Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels is an Australian-American artist living in Brooklyn. The New York art institution Clocktower Productions where she was former artist-in-residence, describes her work as ‘submerging environments built into existing architecture, usually in abandoned or odd locations.’

Derived from her fantastical blueprint drawings, works such as Crystal Cavern (2013-14) and Template (2016) are inspired by family systems; genealogical maps that we are each made up of. 

The interactive large-scale installations resemble crystalline forms and are built from discarded housing material such as lath wood found behind old plaster walls, giving the impression they have been there for decades.


This tiger sculpture was built by Gábor Miklós Szőke, a Hungarian artist renowned for monumental public artworks that feature animals and mythological beasts. The Guardian Tiger is a 13m long feline made from reclaimed timber as part of the Hello Wood art camp in Hungary. 200 architects, designers and makers made projects for eight different Hungarian communities based around the socio-economic concerns of the regions. Photo by iambarnie


Wild Mood Swings art installation by Tim Noble and Sue Webster

It was whilst working for Gilbert & George as students in the late 1990s that internationally acclaimed Brit artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster began experimenting with the assemblage of household rubbish. Their first shadow sculpture Miss Understood & Mr Meanor was sculpted from six months’ worth of the artists’ rubbish – the remains of everything they needed to survive during the time it took to make the work. Pictured above Wild Mood Swings (2009-2010) and below, Self Imposed Misery (2010) made from discarded wood.

Self Imposed Misery by Tim Noble and Sue Webster


See also 8 incredible examples of plastic bottle art and installation

Author: Antonia Edwards

Antonia is the founding editor of Upcyclist. Based in the UK, she is the author of two books: 'Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors' (Prestel 2015) and 'Renovate Innovate: Reclaimed and Upcycled Homes' (Prestel 2017).