Environmental Hero: Pedro Reyes
Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.
Art has always been used best as a way to revolutionize people. When artists use their talents as a cultural tool to bring awareness to environmental and social injustices, it can inspire people into action. Pedro Reyes is no exception. He believes that the purpose of art is to come up with ways to reconstruct the negative into the positive. Through his various art projects, he has done everything from transforming guns into shovels and musical instruments to serving ecologically-friendly grasshopper burgers from a food cart. He wants his artwork to be useful for social and psychological transformation. He believes “that anything can become material for art. It’s one of the freest environments because you’re requested to reinvent the rules.”
Reyes' performance piece for The People’s United Nations at the Queens Museum in New York City focused on climate change. In response to scientific white papers suggesting humans should be eating more bugs as a source of protein, he created and fed to 193 ‘delegates’ at the exhibition, The Grasswhopper -- a burger made of grasshoppers. Pedro wanted to bring awareness around the carbon footprint of excessive meat eating and how it’s destroying the planet and our species. His burger was so effective that it inspired a restaurant in downtown Manhattan to add this delicacy to their permanent menu.
As an artist, originally trained as an architect, , Pedro wanted to see how people interact with built environments. He believes that technology is neither good nor bad, rather it is determined by how one uses it. He proved this in 2007, when he organized a voluntary weapons donation campaign in one of Mexico’s most violent cities. 1,527 weapons were donated and subsequently transported to a military base and melted into 1,527 shovel heads. Once distributed to both public schools and art institutions, people in the community used them to plant 1,527 trees.
After finding out there would be massive weapon destruction in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Reyes was again inspired to melt down the weapons, but this time he wanted to make instruments that would be modeled after traditional musical instruments. Working with Alumnos 47, an art foundation, to create his exhibition, ‘Disarm’ in Mexico City, he combined music with sculpture and technology. In this way the metal could be redeemed by transitioning from something that represents killing to representing music, which is one of the most beautiful forms of communication on the planet.
Most recently, in 2016, Reyes lectured at MIT's Art, Culture and Technology program, co-teaching the course The Reverse Engineering of Warfare: Challenging Techno-optimism and Reimagining the Defense Sector (an Opera for the End of Times). Reyes continues to inspire cultural change and believes that if we want to fight against injustices, we start with art.