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"Lost and Found:" curious green artist makes art from trash

Tia Wierenga, a graduate from Calvin College, is having her show ART/WORK on display in (106) Gallery until June 28.
Wierenga in front of her piece 'Lost and Found'

Wierenga in front of her piece 'Lost and Found' /Emilie Pichot

Exhibit Details

WHO: Tia Wierenga

WHAT: ART/WORK exhibit at the (106) Gallery 

WHERE: 106 South Division Avenue

               Grand Rapids, MI 49503 

WHEN: until June 28

             Wednesday 1 p.m. - 9 p.m. 

              Thursday 1 .m. - 9 p.m.

              Friday 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. 

FREE to public 


Wierenga's exhibit at (106) Gallery 'Art/Work'

Wierenga's exhibit at (106) Gallery 'Art/Work' /Emilie Pichot

chevrons, one of Wierenga's many inspirations, appear frequently in her art

chevrons, one of Wierenga's many inspirations, appear frequently in her art /Emilie Pichot

If you happen to be reading this at midnight, Tia Wierenga is probably just finishing up work at the Gerald Ford Airport. She works there six days out of the week from 6 p.m. to midnight lifting heavy boxes and containers into the planes in the cargo shipping industry. She has worked there for 10 years and finally has embraced it as a form of inspiration for her art.

“I thought, ‘I’m just going to go with it and see where this takes me,’” she says.

“It’s not my career so I try to suppress it,” she shares. “This is just what I do for money and my art is separate. But it really is not. I kept finding myself picking up trash at work because we have to keep the area really clean and free of debris. So I was having these pockets full of trash everyday and I started looking at them and each little object felt kind of special. It’s actually beautiful. I felt that I should start incorporating them into my work. So I collected things in massive quantities.”

Though art is her passion, Wierenga does enjoy working in the cargo shipping industry.

“It’s awesome being out there at night,” she shares enthusiastically, “watching the sun set over the ramp. Watching the planes take off all night.”

During the day, she is most likely to be found working on her art. 

“There were points where this did feel like work,” she says. “It’s not always fun. There were certain pieces I really had to push myself through. I just really wanted to give up and I couldn’t because I needed that piece.”

The exhibit is appropriately called ART/WORK because all of the art in the exhibit is a result of Wierenga’s work in the cargo shipping industry and uses found objects and materials she has accumulated on the job. While at work, she collects trash that often includes bright paper, plastics and wood and is inspired by the forms of communication through “directional, instructional symbols” like stripes and chevrons. The only items Wierenga didn’t get from her job are the wood to make the frames and the paint.  

With a job that forces her to confront much of the trash we accumulate, Wierenga is decidedly a green artist. She re-uses the trash she finds in her art and is very close to being waste free. But sometimes it is more out of necessity than choice. A young artist, Wierenga doesn’t always have the money to spend on new supplies and she doesn’t always have the living space to work on larger projects.

“My work space is very small,” she says. “So that unfortunately does constrict my art. It’s something to think about: the way your work does reflect how you live.”

These restrictions have made her consider how to be even more sustainable and forward thinking, designing her larger pieces to be easy to store.

“’Ok, how can I do something on a large scale but still keep it minimal?’”she says, “so with the planes I made them so you can cut the string, fold them down flat, and store them anywhere.”

Wierenga also finds inspiration in math, science and anthropology. She struggled choosing which side of the brain she wanted to focus more on in her career.

“I’ve had such a hard time picking a career ‘cause I’m really evenly left and right brained,” she says. “I love math. I love science, physics…geometry, the Pythagorean theorem. Everything is intertwined. I’m always finding weird ways to incorporate math into art.”

An eloquent artist deeply aware of contemporary issues, Wierenga’s art is incredibly relevant. It vividly portrays the kind of world we live in today and at the same time the kind of person Wierenga is.

“A hundred years from now,” Wierenga shares, “if an anthropologist were to dissect this work I really hope that they would be able to tell a lot about me and the kind of work I did.”

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