Few people transform trash into treasure quite like Düsseldorf artist Sabine Timm. “I’ve been addicted to hunting treasure since my childhood,” she tells me. “I remember being on vacation when I was seven and collecting shards of china from these mudflats. I still have that box and I could draw every single piece from memory. Ten years ago, when my son was seven, I took him exploring to find his own beachside treasure. No china this time, but we found shards of bleached plastic, chipped forks, flip-flop sandals and bottle caps. Everything you need for a new creation.”
The fruits of this and other expeditions have become the fodder for her long-running beach trash series—or Beach Beauties, as she calls them. With a wry sense of humour and a cartoonish sensibility, Timm moulds these everyday tidbits of garbage into families of cheeky and adorable characters. Little Punk is a cracked grey cassette, with a nose made from a button, mouth a plastic ice-cream spoon and a Mohawk fashioned from a half-toothless comb. The lovely couple Boston Boy and Majorcan Girl are made from wire loops, snapped pegs, wads of old fabric and what appears to be a pink plastic battleship figurine. The range and inventiveness of her work is something to behold.
“I love the moment when I first pour my treasures out and start to organise them,” she says. “My brain instantly starts creating—this looks like a nose, that’s a funny mouth, what a perfect hairdo and so on. I never know what’s going to come out of my playing. Often I add leaves and flowers I’ve found in the garden and in less than an hour a big family of new characters is born.”
While much of her collection comes from the riverbanks near her home, her favourite place to go hunting is on the shores of the Mediterranean. “I go there two times a year and take these wonderful walks with our dog, Lucy. She is a very good assistant but only has eyes for driftwood. I think I am a constant hunter, though, so whenever I take a walk, I find interesting things on the ground.”
Her favourite discoveries are the broken plastic toys that litter the beaches. “That’s always a little feast for me! It always makes me feel like an archaeologist. These sandblasted, broken things are telling stories about the kids who played with them and the happy days they once had. It always makes me a bit sad to think of them lying in the sand, abandoned and forgotten.”
Sabine sells photos of her work, but not the creatures themselves. “Some of them became beloved studio companions, and from time to time they play a role in my scenes,” she explains. “The other creatures are part of the never-ending process of construction and deconstruction. I couldn’t possibly let them go.”
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