In Kazakhstan’s cultural capital, one artwork rises above all others: the mighty Almaty squirrel.
Created for the 2018 Art Energy festival by British artist Alex Rinsler, the sculpture was designed as a testament to urban adaptation. Now the artwork is evolving once more by shedding its straw outer layer for a new covering of multi-coloured plastic.
The new shell will be made from recycled plastic gathered at 30 collection points across the city, leading the team behind the project to rename the installation as Almaty’s “EcoSquirrel”. If the public recycling points become popular, they hope it could be used as a springboard to start a long term recycling scheme.
“The EcoSquirrel has become a way of drawing attention to key problems in the city — and that includes ecology first and foremost,” say project organisers. “As a coalition of eco-activists, companies, projects, and volunteers, we decided to create an environmental campaign to promote waste collection and recycling, and that became the EcoSquirrel.”
As well as using crowdfunding, the team will be giving sponsors the chance to print their name or logo on one of the new plastic panels.
The squirrel’s reinvention, however, does not seem set to calm artistic tensions between traditional culture critics (who decried the original sculpture as an eyesore) and dedicated lovers of die-hard kitsch (including those who have enjoyed dressing up the squirrel for occasions such as Kazakhstan’s Naruz celebrations).
The EcoSquirrel team instead say they are simply finding new ways of promoting culture, particularly outside the city centre.
“The project is part of an ongoing change in how urban initiatives are perceived,” they say. “It’s a symbol of how official pathos and archaic canons of sculptural form are being rejected in favour of modern, creative, and democratic solutions.”