Creatives are coming up with cool solutions to the island’s tidal wave of rubbish.
Over in Seminyak, Indonesian entrepreneur Ronald Akili, founder of hospitality hub Potato Head, had his watershed moment in 2016, cutting through plastic-littered waves on his daily surf. “Back on the beach the trash was almost up to my knees for as far as I could see,” he says. “From that day, I made the commitment that anything I did in my company would be part of the solution.”
This became Desa Potato Head, a creative village built around Akili’s existing Potato Head beach club and hotel, Potato Head Suites. The beachfront complex, designed by Dutch firm OMA, has repurposed plastic waste embedded in its DNA. Weavers from Jakarta-based design firm BYO Living reworked 1.7 tonnes of compressed PET plastic into Desa’s geometric ceilings, and collaborated with British designer Faye Toogood on a bespoke collection of rattan furniture wrapped in recycled plastic bottles. For the rooms, designer Max Lamb teamed up with artisans from local furniture studio Kalpa Taru to make kaleidoscopic desk chairs and hotel amenities from terrazzo-like sheets of compressed plastic bottles. Spanish designer Andreu Carulla works with Desa’s on-site R&D workshop, producing roly-poly stools from recycled Styrofoam. “We tend to respond better when we’re inspired than when we’re being preached to,” Akili says. “We all want to eat healthier, but our food still needs to be delicious. We all want to make sustainable objects, but they still have to be beautiful.”
Since its launch in 2019, Desa has turned into a springboard and gathering spot for Bali’s plastic-centric people. “We wanted to invite artists, grassroots communities and engineers to share their voices,” Akili says, hoping to make “a place to create solutions to help regenerate Bali.” Among the collaborators is Liina Klauss, a German artist whose piece 5,000 Lost Soles is at the entrance to the beach club. Made from more than 5,000 plastic flip-flops collected over just six beach clean-ups around Bali’s western coast, it’s both beautiful and disquieting. “In contrast to western countries, Bali’s plastic problem is very visible,” Klauss says. “Plastic is a global issue, and its symptoms show up in paradise. It’s this contrast that intrigues me: the intersection where pristine nature meets western consumer culture.”
Last December, the Desa expanded its art collection with Pointman – River Warrior, a 6m-tall sculpture by American artist Leonard Hilton McGurr (also known as Futura2000), made from 888 kilos of plastic waste. The team also worked with Sungai Watch on a smaller sculpture made from compressed plastic bags, currently on display at the National Design Centre in Singapore.