Michaela Leib perfected the art of recycling this year.
Leib, a sophomore studying studio art and computer science, earned the Juror's Choice award by metal artist Preston Farabow at the 2018 Art of Recycling Sculpture exhibition.
Twelve of the sculptures from the exhibition were on display at the Knoxville Convention Center through Sunday which showed the connections among Gerdau — the largest producer of long steel in the Americas — the UT sculpture department and local non-profit organization Dogwood Arts.
Gerdau creates new steel from discarded scrap metal to use for city infrastructure instead of leaving the materials for a landfill. Students can use the scrap metal for sculptures as well, and the intermediate and advanced sculpture classes participate in a “scrap dig” and art show.
“It's a really great opportunity to get your work out there, and we actually didn't know there would be a Juror's Choice Award until we had already started fabricating (in class),” Leib said.
Vice president and general manager of Gerdau Knoxville Johnny Miller said that the exhibition’s juror Preston Farabow must make harder choices regarding winners each year as students continue to produce better pieces.
“The artworks become more impressive each time,” Miller said. “When he saw Michaela’s sculpture, ‘Groundwork,’ he said it took his breath away. That kind of feedback from such an accomplished metal artist speaks volumes about Michaela’s creativity.”
Miller said the purpose of the exhibition is three-fold, highlighting and serving different purposes.
“This art project provides an excellent opportunity to support student sculptors like Michaela, celebrate National Recycling Month and educate the public about how ‘green’ steel manufacturing really is,” Miller said.
Leib said she cannot pinpoint what exactly sparked her interest in art, but said she always enjoyed creating projects and said she has a background in stage technology and journalism.
“It's exciting to go through a creative process with your peers,” Leib said. “I'm technically not in Intermediate Sculpture. I'm doing more of an independent study alongside the class, so it was nice to be involved in a group activity with them rather than just working by myself.”
Leib said that interactive objects are often present in her work, and she likes to think of her projects as systems. Though she cannot draw specific inspirations without naming solely artists, she uses her knowledge and interest in math and science to incorporate into her work.
“I'm really interested in this question of authentic functionality — whether an interactive object actually works as described or is just fabricated to appear that way,” Leib said. “‘Groundwork’ is on the lower end of interactivity as far as most of my work is concerned, but I still had people asking me if the grass was real.”
Miller said the exhibition continues to connect peers in an interactive art experience and bring awareness to the action of recycling. “Students can see how creative and talented their peers are, even at the beginning of their sculpting careers,” Miller said. “It also will open anyone’s eyes to the ‘Art of Recycling’ because it truly is inspired art.”