Tea bags turned into art

Deborah Forkert in front of ‘Memories of My Mother’s Piupui: Dawn’, made from recycled teabags and mixed media on plywood. Photos and Video: Rosalie Liddle Crawford.

Click the image above to watch the video

Deborah Forkert's tea bag art at Cottleston Gallery in Greerton looks a little like stained glass with a multicultural Pacific flavour. On looking more closely though, it becomes clear each piece is made from used tea bags.

She noticed the similarity tea bags have to tapa and was inspired to explore the dried paper cover of used tea bags, experimenting with textures and how to connect them.

The results are a variety of unique art works that use the tea bags as fabric to emboss, print on, tie dye, paint on and write on.

Delving into her childhood for inspiration, Deborah says her current body of work was initially inspired by memories of her mother's piu piu.

Deborah started working with tea bags about five years ago while studying art at Bay of Plenty Polytech, completing a diploma in art. The students were encouraged to explore their personal story using alternative materials.

“I got into tea bags,” says Deborah. “I liked the way they looked together and it reminded me of tapa cloth. I see our country as being a Pacific nation rather than an outpost of England.”

“So I started to put them together and they became the fundamental material that I worked on. But as time went on I started to manipulate them more.”

Some of the tea bags she paints onto, stitches on, or adds beads and gold foil. Some are cut and woven, and others left in their entirety.

“I love that each tea bag is a moment of time that's been captured and become their own little memory,” says Deborah.

Not every bag in the exhibition has been drunk by Deborah.

“Some are drunk by other people. If they have particularly nice tea bags, I'll take them with me,” she laughs. “If we travel I'll take them from the hotel, and I have a friend in Canberra, her husband drinks particularly strong tea and they are the most beautiful tea bags and she'll post them to me.”

“Drinking tea can be at a time of commiseration, or celebration,” says Deborah. “If there's something happening, people say come and have a cup of tea.”

Fennel tea, cranberry tea, strawberry and rhubarb tea, Healtheries tea, if it comes in a bag then Deborah may have it woven or stitched into one of her art works.

“My favourite is Lipton, the long envelope ones, but you can't buy them anymore in New Zealand,” says Deborah. “I've tried to contact Liptons to find out how I can buy them.”

Apparently not all tea bags are equal.

“Some tea bags don't make the cut,” says Deborah. “I don't like them, they know it. I tell them they're doing their best to be a tea bag.”

Some of the work hangs in collections on the walls, with themes around life, Aotearoa and memories of her mother. There are other art pieces in Deborah's Depleted Vessels collection that are three dimensional containers and objects.

Deborah has had her work accepted into the Molly Morpeth Art Awards, Waikato River Art Awards, the Miles Art Awards twice and the CoCA Anthony Harper Awards for Contemporary Art.

Deborah Forkert's solo exhibition ‘Remains of the Day' continues until January 17, at the Cottleston Art Gallery, 128 Oropi Road.


Tea bags turned into ‘Depleted Vessels'.



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