The Art of Garbage

HUDSON VALLEY TALENT | People are talking about . . . Aurora Robson

by Sabrina Sucato

For most people, trash is an ugly, unavoidable part of everyday life. It clogs the streets, stinks up the house, and adds to the laundry list of weekly chores.

Aurora Robson isn’t like most people. She sees trash not as useless remnants but as the beginning of something beautiful. Robson, 45, is a garbage artist. She is an expert at transforming leftover scraps into one-of-a-kind works of art.

After growing up in Hawaii, which Robson calls “a pristine natural paradise,” the artist relocated to New York, where she studied visual arts and art history at Columbia University, began to focus on art as a career. The decision to pursue her passion full time was a nerve-wracking one, but it was ultimately worth the leap.

“I tried to fight [my interest] for a very long time but eventually it became clear to me that there was zero chance of personal fulfillment without exploring art as a serious profession,” she says. During her 21-year chapter in the Big Apple, she realized that a new creative medium awaited her.

“Seeing so much waste and litter in New York City and being exposed to a lot of contemporary art helped me realize that it was uncharted territory in many ways,” she explains. She chose to experiment with plastic garbage first because of its ubiquitous nature, changing forms, commonality, and infinite variety. To date, she has transformed thousands overlooked items like water bottles and food containers into massive sculptures housed in buildings across the nation.

Upon immersing herself in the world of recycled art, Robson, a dedicated environmentalist, felt a need to spread the word about her proect both within the arts community and to the general public. To achieve this, she established a nonprofit called Project Vortex (PV). The program bands together artists, designers, and architects from all over the world with the common goal of “intercepting the plastic waste stream.” The organization, which is ever expanding, works to raise awareness through art about the overwhelming amount of plastic that is produced and disposed of annually. In addition to collaborating with fellow artists on recycling and educational initiatives, Robson is also hard at work organizing the first Project Vortex collective art exhibit and helping colleges to implement her self-designed course, entitled “Sculpture + Intercepting the Waste Stream.”

“My goal is to use Project Vortex to create a trifecta to help academic institutions implement the course (or a variation on it) with ease and with support from the nearest PV artist to their institution if necessary,” she noted. While Robson designed her course with college level students in mind, she also has younger generations on her radar as well. This past spring, she collaborated with art instructor Phyllis Chadwick and Pawling High School students on a special “Trash to Treasure” program. The class, which was designed to bring awareness to local and global pollution problems, concluded with a showcase and silent auction of the students’ recycled creations that raised a noteworthy $455 for environmental awareness in the community.

“I am so impressed with the dedication of the teachers at Pawling and the receptiveness and hard work of the students,” she enthuses. Based upon the success of the Pawling High School program, Robson hopes to find a way to bring some version of it to other schools. She is currently looking into educational sponsorship for environmentally friendly cleansers as a way to support future implementations.

In between teaching at schools and maintaining Project Vortex, Robson blocks out time at her studio in Chester, NY, for commissioned projects. At the moment, she has a laundry list of creative endeavors to prepare for locations across the country.

“I am working on an installation for ARTLAB at the KRASL center in Michigan, a 40-foot wide installation for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in South Carolina, and a body of junk mail collages for the New Gallery of Modern Art in North Carolina,” she says.

With so many projects on her plate, it is a wonder that Robson has time to breathe, let alone find time to accomplish it all. Luckily, her commitment to environmentalism motivates her to push onward. She balances both small and large-scale ventures designed to promote recycling and environmental care and educate on the negative impacts of pollution. From giving a TED Talk in 2013 on “Trash + Love” to recently participating in an Open Studio in Orange County for the first time, Robson always finds a way to spread the word.

While she readily admits that keeping up with her dedication to the environment can be a challenge, especially as the mother to two young girls, it is worth the extra effort. Ultimately, she notes that realistic expectations and hard work are integral to creating a healthier, happier planet.

“You can’t control everything and nobody is perfect,” she said. “I think it is all about moderation and doing your best at any given moment.”

She may not be perfect, but this trash expert doles out advice to treasure.

LEARN more about Aurora Robson at

SEE the Project Vortex artists at

READ about the Pawling “Trash to Treasure” program at