EPS art: Of “Styrobots” and stage sets

An every­day prod­uct in the hands of artists.

Brus­sels — “I love the idea that an every­day prod­uct can be looked at in a com­plete­ly new way by mak­ing small changes,” artist Michael Salter said of his use of dis­card­ed Expand­ed Poly­styrene (EPS) pack­ag­ing to com­ment on the visu­al cul­ture around him.

EPS is used by thou­sands of artists around the world to express their opin­ions and vision of the world. From Car­ni­val to Christ­mas, and in the Covid times in a vac­ci­na­tion cen­tre, art that is made of EPS, includ­ing “waste” EPS, sur­rounds us–even though we some­times don’t recog­nise the mate­r­i­al that gives such shapes their form.

Many artists glue chunks of EPS togeth­er to make them fit the spaces where they are exhib­it­ed. Take Karo­line Hinz, who is a scene sculp­tor and a prop­mak­er. For years she has been mak­ing stage sets out of EPS for the­atre, music, and film pro­duc­tions. She com­pares the use of this flex­i­ble mate­r­i­al to a pix­e­lat­ed image that slow­ly takes shape. After com­plet­ing clas­si­cal train­ing at the Berlin Opera and by learn­ing var­i­ous sculpt­ing and paint­ing tech­niques, she can bring the most absurd ideas to life with EPS.

The mate­r­i­al has estab­lished itself as a mate­r­i­al for enter­tain­ing, over­sized instal­la­tions, and stage sets because it is com­par­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive, easy to work with and extreme­ly light (after all, it’s 98% com­posed of air). This makes it also very easy to assem­ble and dis­man­tle, as it can be lift­ed with­out much effort.

It is con­ve­nient that artists can get hold of EPS for free from recy­cling bins and con­tain­ers. Michael Salter explained that in his ear­ly days, he still went look­ing for EPS in such con­tain­ers and also asked the pub­lic for dona­tions. In a way, artists like Mr Salter are able to recy­cle EPS and give it a new life and purpose.

At the end of the day, and fol­low­ing many of these exhi­bi­tions, par­ties, and the­atre per­for­mances, most of the art has to be tak­en apart and the indi­vid­ual parts made of EPS can be col­lect­ed and recy­cled again—maybe even as anoth­er Sty­ro­bot or the­atre set.


Karo­line Hinz on one of her stage designs.
AuthorJulia Martha Lubos and Daniel Costa