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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 5, 2005

One man's trash, another man's treasure

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By Wanda A. Adams
Assistant Features Editor

With a little imagination, a creatively cut juice carton can be recycled and transformed into a mask.

Photos courtesy of Volcano Garden Arts

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DISCOVER RECYCLING FAIR

9 a.m.-5 p.m. today, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. tomorrow

Blaisdell Arena

Trash art gallery, hands-on projects for kids and adults, exhibits and information

Free

Information: www.opala.org

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Artist Hari Orme stockpiles "stuff," like the old compact disc, bits of packaging and a domino he used to make this refrigerator magnet.

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Ira Ono

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Photocopies of pictures, old stamps, a plastic doll, crimped paper, aluminum foil and card combine to create this eye-catching hula-girl frame.

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For Ira Ono, there is no such thing as trash. There is only the raw material of art.

For years, it's been one of his missions to inspire others to see throwaway materials the same way. That's why he's on O'ahu this weekend, teaching people to make jewelry and masks and other cool things from "all kinds of stuff" at Honolulu's Discover Recycling Fair.

Ono, a longtime Big Island resident and owner of the Volcano Garden Arts gallery (www.volcanogardenarts.com), grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., accompanying his antiques-dealer mother on treasure-seeking trips into the country. Later, as the stereotypical "starving artist," he furnished entire New York apartments with what the art world primly labels "found objects."

Trash provoked one of Ono's many artistic transmutations. He moved to Hawai'i in the 1960s as a performance artist. Then, in the 1980s, he did a dance piece called "Trashface" that required a huge costume built from trash. When he was done building it, the studio was littered with bits of brightly colored paper, and it was suggested to him that these would make great earrings.

His first product line, Trashface, was sold in galleries from Maui to Manhattan. The raw materials ranged from stationery scraps to love letters, buttons to baby teeth the sorts of things you find in bottom drawers, Grandma's linen closet or dusty second hand stores.

"They're things that evoke emotion, they're part of the past, and they're recycled, rescued. I've always believed inanimate objects have a life of their own, and my role as an artist has been to discover them," said Ono. (He was born Ira Kauffman, by the way, but one day at a crafts fair, a customer, seeing a sign that advertised his wares as 'ono delicious asked him if he was Mr. Ono, and a new identity was born.)

Ono launched the Trash Art Show in Hilo 17 years ago, featuring artworks and a fashion show, and it continues to prosper, having spawned similar, shorter-lived events on O'ahu and Maui.

Ono and his O'ahu collaborator, artist Hari Orme, and friends from Da Space gallery, as well as other volunteers, have been stockpiling "stuff" for months for the Recycle Art Center, where anyone can try his or her hand at getting creative with 'opala. The centerpiece of the center is a huge interactive installation sculpture to which everyone who attends the show is welcome to contribute. A Trash Art Gallery showcases the work of contemporary artists using found objects.

Said Ono: "I just want people to experience what the eye of the artist can do."

Reach Wanda A. Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com.