When Monika Lin isn't giving a lecture to her students, there's a high chance one might find her wandering the streets and construction sites in search of what most people would consider to be trash.
But to the clinical assistant professor of arts at New York University Shanghai, these salvaged items bear a much more poignant meaning-they are a means of raising important questions about the relationship between man and his impact on the environment, or problems related to society, culture and capitalism.
In her art installation River of Plastic, acrylic, styrofoam, Tyvek bags and cardboard fixtures form a landscape that is illuminated by lights every time a viewer approaches. The plastic, she says, is used to symbolize the realities of manufacturing and global consumerism-"a non-stop river of commoditized, disposable happiness". Created in 2016, the art installation was previously showcased at the Central Booking Gallery in New York in 2017.
Luise Guest, an art historian at the University of New South Wales, says Lin's work reflects what French philosopher Roland Barthes suggested in his 1957 book Mythologies that "the whole world can be plasticized, and even life itself".
Guest adds: "Lin connects the toxicity of the beauty myth to the vast waste dumps of plastic and garbage surrounding cities and polluting the oceans, a result of our reliance on the endless cycle of production and consumption, and the repetitive labor of millions."
Another of Lin's artworks, Color of Light, attempts to tackle a similar issue. Using mostly recycled plastics and solar lights, Lin built several sculptures shaped like trees that can provide shade in the day and function as lamps at night. This installation was showcased in Yangjiawei City Park in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in May.
"These plastic trees indicate the loss of nature and the solar energy-powered light that illuminates the trees is perhaps one solution that we can all take upon ourselves to make the planet a little bit better," she says.
Meanwhile, Take Away, an artwork comprising 12 pieces of transparent epoxy resin made to resemble disposable microwave food containers, each containing rice grains forming the shape of a tree, aims to address the issues of waste, labor and pollution in food delivery systems.
"Completely in white, these images speak of something almost divine, like a perfect image frozen in time-a motionless snow globe, "says Rebecca Catching, formerly the director of OV Gallery in Shanghai, of the artwork.
"But hemmed in by the contours of the take-out box, which left its rounded rectangle imprint in the resin, these poor trees are trapped, (and) their growth, like that of the human development, is halted."
Born in New York to a Chinese father and a Swiss mother, Lin pointed out that her interest in promoting sustainability stems from her time in high school when she had a teacher who was passionate about reaching out to students and helping them with their needs.