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Insights of an Eco Artist

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In conversation: Francesca Busca

Joana Alarcão

Meet Francesca Busca, a visionary eco-artivist pioneering sustainable art since 2017, turning trash into treasure and advocating for a future of resourceful innovation and conscious living. Join us as we delve into the world of 'trashure' art and the powerful message behind every tessera.

4 March 2024

I pioneer sustainable art since 2017 by creating my artworks entirely out of waste: my trashure.

Torn between optimism and surrender, I am haunted by the idea of mankind’s imminent self-destruction. Yet I believe in a future for humanity of resourceful innovation through re-thinking, re-purposing and preventing. It is this hope that is made visible through my work: though I see art as meaningful rather than beautiful, in my case the two coincide - for the more beautiful the artworks, the clearer the message. Every tessera I create is in itself a protest against our disposable lifestyle, providing a different perspective on rubbish. In my world rubbish acquires new value and meanings, and becomes the undisputed protagonist of my artworks, as fun and beautiful a Cinderella as I can master it to be: from waste to wonder.

I thoroughly enjoy working within both the ethical and the material limitations which this choice entails, working with material which often take years to gather (be it from the street, a client, a friend or her own household).

My eco-artivism encompasses every aspect of my life: a vegan raising vegans, using 100% renewable energy, wearing second-hand clothes, being plastic free wherever possible, seeking local food and saving water, growing a vegetable and wildlife garden, experimenting with permaculture, fostering a passion for evolutionary ecology and vegetal neurobiology and not flying for the past 4 years, as I strive to live as sustainably as possible. I love to inspire and be inspired.

In short: I want to transform the unwanted into desirable, shame into wonder, the superfluous into the essential, and provoke real Change.

Can you start by giving us an overview of your practice and what steps you took to become the eco-artivist and rubbish artist you are today?

I now like to call myself an Eco-Artivist, or Rubbish Artist: as such, I create my artworks entirely out of waste. 

However, my background is in the Classics and the Law: ex-City solicitor, I practiced art as a hobby since I was little, whether selling my drawings on the street as a child, preparing wall drapes for medieval fairs by only using period techniques as a teenager or frantically modelling clay whilst practicing law. I finally made the switch and eventually graduated with distinction at the London School of Mosaic in 2019, where I also lectured Fabrication in 2021/22. Internationally, I then exhibited in 100+ venues, was published in 60+ articles and textbooks, and won 2 dozen+ awards. 

Coming from an eco-friendly family where tree guerrilla planting was a weekend hobby, my upbringing naturally re-emerged stronger with time, and my technique instinctively developed as a growing urge to replace precious new materials for my tesserae with pre-existing objects which were otherwise destined as discards (my ‘trashure’).  

In times where nature is literally suffocating in plastic and where our resources are used up in around half the sustainable period globally (Earth overshoot day in 2023 was the 2nd of August globally, and the 19th of May for the UK), my belief is that we should, and we can, stop plundering Earth for new resources unnecessarily, and that what we treat as disposable actually has a value and should be given a chance to be useful every time it is so possible, with the aim of not only reducing - but preventing waste altogether. 


I then realised that this urgency is still surprisingly overlooked by the community, and naturally ensued the need to spread the knowledge and to find ways to make it possible and adaptable throughout all classes of society – whilst being fun and collaborative. My intention clearly is not to patronise, but rather quite the contrary: I believe in our capacity to change and better ourselves, and I think that often the main cause of our current crisis is indeed our ignorance, induced by a system which often leaves us little space to question the established dogmas of capitalism and the basic idea of productivity, currently so commonly distorted into consumerism.  

Sculpture by Francesca Busca
Beehivis, 2017 by Francesca Busca. Image courtesy of Francesca Busca.

In your statement, you mentioned being “torn between optimism and surrender, haunted by the idea of mankind’s imminent self-destruction." Can you elaborate on the significance of this statement in your practice?


I am constantly and unflinchingly Gesamtkunstwerk - namely socially and emotionally engaged in everything I do, both in my practice and in my everyday life - whether trying to eat, use and buy only ethical, second hand, plastic-free, cruelty-free items, clean energy, tending to my veggie and wildflower garden or not flying. Being so whilst trying to inspire and be inspired to do better can be the most energising or the most draining exercise ever: swaying from confident, almost childish positivity to moments of cynical, utter surrender. 

In a world where around 80% of agricultural land is used for farmed animals and it is scientifically proven that if we all went vegan we would reduce such figure by 75%, but where a few seconds of pleasure for our tastebuds seem to be worth more than the life of other creatures and the future of our children, sometimes it is really hard to believe humanity actually deserves to be saved from its self-extinction. When this thought hits me, it drains my energy to regain enough self-confidence to stop it from daunting me.

But were I not hopeful, I would not be doing what I do. It is indeed hope that kindles my whole practice, as I believe that we can change, we can learn to be better, we can understand that we are not the owners of this planet, but rather a link which has gone berserk in the chain of our wondrous eco-system; and that yes, we can indeed grow to understand and embrace the reality that all creatures (both animal and plants) play a vital role in nature and are to be treated as equals – and that we should not make arrogant claims of ownership toward our planet, but rather feel nothing but humble, joyous gratefulness and respect. 

Sculpture by Francesca Busca
Hybrid Cactus (…and then it wasn’t), 2018 by Francesca Busca. Image courtesy of Francesca Busca.

Your artworks, composed entirely of waste, convey a powerful message about resourceful innovation and environmental consciousness. Can you share a specific piece that holds special significance to you and the story behind its creation?

It is so hard to choose! Every piece I make is quite emotionally charged, as it is drenched in love and hope (with a few exceptions which are cathartically imbued with surrender). One piece bearing a meaning of a particularly personal nature is probably “Hybrid Cactus (…and then it wasn’t)”, which I made in 2018 with discarded bones, fruit nets, plastic cutlery and a year worth's supply of medicine vials. The thought behind the artwork is that not only I wondered how long humans will be able to eat other creatures sustainably, but also how long before plastic replaces organic material substantially - either through conscious human intervention or through hormonal assimilation...

However, it is the material that makes it very personal to me: the vials are from my mum’s daily thyroid medicine. So one little plastic container each day, to save one extremely precious life for me, but endanger countless others…nowadays, finding myself with the same condition, I ask: am I really worth it? Is there really no kinder alternative? It is one of those unsettling conundrums which chronically haunt me at the back of my mind.

What can you tell us about the Flow of Life installation at Ada Lovelace CoE Secondary School? Can you walk us through the creative process behind this project and its impact on the school community?

I feel like I need to make a personal preamble here. As a family, we are atheist but spiritual, and our children come from a primary school where they were taught Sanskrit, meditation, and The Pause between lessons. Once into secondary, we wanted them to carry these principles outside that beautiful bubble and into the real world, so we chose a state school. Unfortunately, our impression was that empathy, the core principle in their previous school, was now almost seen as a weakness, and it felt like they had jumped from one extreme to the other. That’s when we found Ada Lovelace, a CoE school which not only embraces spiritual principles but which is finally open to all faiths, and we could not believe our luck when our children were accepted. This is why, when the school approached me about the artwork for their new chapel, I was thrilled: I really wanted to celebrate the school and its openness to diversities, create a chant of happiness and a feeling of belonging for everyone to enjoy which could embody the welcoming spirit of the school. I had the design in mind as soon as I entered the space, and I think everyone felt like it was just meant to be!

The Flow of Life" is a 9.5 metres permanent installation, first of its kind, made 100% with waste, much of which was collected by the students, parents and staff of the school – all of whom were amazed by how such items, previously of no importance, could then become so precious. So again, there is an element of community involvement which in my eyes enriches the whole experience tremendously, making the artwork all the more meaningful.

Your upcoming collaboration with the Institute of Marine Sciences in Venice sounds truly amazing. Could you share more about the project and how you plan to use waste recovered from the sea to create art installations?


I am so excited about this project! I have been liaising with the institute since last summer, to understand what the usual waste would be from either the sea or the labs, so that we could select the array of items to collect for the artworks. I loved nosing around in their stunning building and speaking to the researchers about their work. It is a world of knowledge which fascinates me down to the nitty gritty details of their daily routines.

The idea I have in mind for the artwork is to recreate objects in the seabed, enveloped by corals and molluscs: I would be using the larger objects recovered from the sea as the base, and the lab waste as the fancy covering details. I will be going back there in April, to check on the ‘trashure’ collection and to get a head start by trying adhesives and tile shapes on a few samples. Obviously, the final result will be material-driven, so as usual I will have to think on my feet, which is invariably the most fun and dynamic part of my work. Also, I intend to invite colleagues to collaborate, both artists and mosaicists, either for a few days or a few hours. The only condition will be that they go vegan for the day/s in which they will be helping. As they know me, I am sure they will expect something challenging within the experience...I actually feel they might be disappointed otherwise! 

Sculpture by Francesca Busca
LOVE is Vegan by Francesca Busca. Image courtesy of Francesca Busca.

You are the founder of an organization called Art for Trash. What can you tell us about it?

When I put my head down to try to find the best way to divulge awareness as far and wide, and as loud and clear as I could, I concluded that the government would surely have the widest reach, but also the slowest implementation. Individual interactions, on the other hand, are always the best way forward, as they involve an actual dialogue which can be tailored to interests and social circumstances and which can be a great reciprocal source of inspiration: however, a hundred lives would not be enough to ‘make it a movement’. That’s when I thought of corporations: they are fast, efficient, and they have an interest in transitioning to sustainable practices, whether by true belief or mere corporate requirement. And, because of my background, it is a world I navigate with ease. I just had to get in, and work the magic from within!

So I came up with the ArtforTrash© initiative, whereby I use the clients’ own waste to create artwork for corporate offices – which I now apply to institutional and private settings too. This way, the staff is involved from the very beginning, as they are the ones who collect the rubbish for the artworks, in the hope that they will see value in those disposable objects which from shameful discards become precious items of ‘trashure’ to keep.

So far all AfT projects have been very well received, and the silver lining is that within these structures I always find people who truly cared about the issue. Also, I am told that the artworks are a wonderful ice breaker with their own clients in turn. It just feels like a win-win initiative, with exponential consequences and reach. And the clients often come back for more. 


Collaborating with environmental organizations and running pro bono art projects on eco-awareness is a major part of your practice. How do you see art playing a role in promoting sustainability and inspiring action?

I think figures like Banksy and Ai Weiwei are essential nowadays, and the perfect embodiment of what is truly needed: Art for Change. At a time when we have finally reached the required equality, respect and dignity in our diversities, we are still facing some obvious social injustices which make us realise how delicate the principles of freedom and tolerance are, and that we should never take them for granted. This extends to the environment, and in particular to the preposterous decisions our government has taken in the past few years denying some vital environmental commitments, which in my view should be indicted as global genocide. The harm is so great I find it offensive that the government expects us to accept it. I believe that great art is able to intuitively convey a whole concept in a single artwork, publicly raising the issue and awakening the instinctive sense of justice and love that I believe we all have, hopefully encouraging people to speak their mind to finally demand change. 

If it is indeed true that “Art is Essential”, I think it would also ring true to add “for our survival”, which I believe would be the case if all artists divulged attention to sustainable practices. I think it would be selfish and contradictory for an artist, whose role is to inspire society and often to think ahead of their times, not to embrace – and drive! – environmental responsibility.

Sculpture by Francesca Busca
Vie for Vegan, 2024 by Francesca Busca. Image courtesy of Francesca Busca.

As an advocate for sustainability through art, what advice would you offer to individuals or organizations looking to incorporate eco-friendly practices into their creative endeavors?

I would truly stress the important role all companies, institutions and corporations play in shaping our future: not only do they have a tremendous reach but they also have the luxury of real individual engagement and fast implementation – not to mention a high degree of independence. They should be playing a major role in ensuring that all the decisions they make are based on ethical and sustainable principles rather than being driven merely by profit or politics; don’t greenwash and truly commit to a sustainable future: drive the change! Art can be a huge part of it: I think they should invest in, look for, and actually demand artists to adhere to sustainable standards too, in any medium – and cover their walls with it.

Last but not least, please be true – i.e. do not state that you are “carbon negative”. It drives me up the wall to see it written so often all around us. I find it offensive that one would believe us so gullible: to be carbon negative we would need to be plants! And carbon credits are one of the biggest greenwashing deceits of our times: whilst planting trees knowledgeably is a must, it takes decades before they can finally and effectively counterbalance our current emissions. 


Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of sustainable art, and how do you envision your role within this evolving landscape?

My hope is that all artists will soon see sustainability as an essential aspect of their practice. Artists are curious, everchanging souls by definition, and the way I see it we are already geared towards setting trends ahead of our times, and enthusiastically embracing new practices and principles which foster tolerance, inclusivity, love for diversity and the greater good for society – and there is nothing which embodies these principles as much as nature itself. 

From a personal perspective, I hope I will keep innovating mosaic and pushing its boundaries, breaking the division between fine art and this ancient craft, making both of them accessible and relatable to all spheres of society, and keep inspiring people to do the same. From a museum to an office, from a class to a home, I want to keep transforming the unwanted into desirable, shame into wonder, the superfluous into the essential, and provoke change.

And I hope by doing just that we can create a wider community of like-minded people encompassing all spheres of society, at all levels, across all professions, age and belief; wide enough to be able to shift to an economy based not on the wealth of a few humans, but on the health of the whole eco-system, where the common good has finally ousted profit. 

On a smaller note - to this end, I recently decided I will find the time to run one course per year on eco-artivism in mosaic through the London School of Mosaic, so that I can also support and keep the connection with the vibrant multidisciplinary community which catalyses around it. So come find us - if you haven’t yet been, I recommend you go for a random nose-dip when you can…maybe topped with a superb lunch at their Mother canteen.


Sculpture by Francesca Busca
The Flow of Life, 2023 by Francesca Busca. Image courtesy of Francesca Busca.

What message or call to action would you like to leave our readers with?

Please do believe in yourself and your ability to make changes for the better! Please do not shift our responsibilities to the government or corporations. Ultimately they are also made of people, just like us. 

Get informed, make changes and make a difference: whether switching to renewable energy, growing your own veggie garden, saving trees, buying second hand clothes and refillable products, eating local and in season, checking the provenance of everything you need before buying it - or doing it, always ask yourself: do I really need it? Is there a better way to do it? 

And obviously, though I know it is surprisingly controversial, please go vegan whenever you can! We could save one third of carbon emissions just by doing that – if we were looking for a magic button to press to slow down climate change, this would be it!

Do you actually share the induced bias that kindness for all creatures, for our children, and for the planet is extreme? Or rather, do you instinctively agree that extreme is unnecessarily killing 900,000 cows, 1.4 million goats, 1.7 million sheep, 3.8 million pigs, 12 million ducks, 202 million chickens and hundreds of millions of fish every day, whilst dooming our children to extinction, and all for the sake of our tastebuds (not our health)? Then please, join the kindness revolution. Be the change. Be GenVe.

Find more about the artist here.

Cover image:

Strawberry on the Beach, 2022 by Francesca Busca. Image courtesy of Francesca Busca.

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