May 18, 2021
Lily Moayeri

When it comes to upcycling art, the many unique ways of reinventing unwanted trash into something beautiful are endless. Plus, there’s never any waste left behind...

If you’ve ever renovated your house or even witnessed construction of any kind, you’ll know the volume of material discarded from demolition and refurbishment is immense, no matter how small the job. A creative way of circumventing the waste generated from building construction, both macro and micro, is by reinventing it as upcycled art. For a location like Monteverde, the emerald crown jewel of Costa Rica is known for its sustainability as well as the proactiveness of its indigenous communities in preserving their habitat, upcycling is a natural fit.

At its core, the concept of upcycling involves taking otherwise useless and unwanted items and transforming them into products of value. In other words, turning trash into treasure. Upcycling is not a recent practice, certainly not in art circles. For example, sculptor Brian Dettmer carves intricate worlds out of thrown out thick tomes and cast away cassettes and videotapes, turning them into sought-after pieces that are collected in revered museums across the globe. Japanese artist Yuken Teruya turns empty toilet roll tubes into a forest with the flick of his blade. France’s Spot Waste employs every part of an old skateboard fashioning them into a practical, working item such as turntables, speakers or even beer tap handles.

In Monteverde, you’ll find the Chilling Giant. This immense upcycled sculpture sits nearby the largest parking lot leading to one of the area’s most visited sites, the luscious Cloud Forest Reserve. At almost 10-meters long, five-meters wide and five-meters high, this wood and metal creation is, indeed, a giant. The imposing sculpture provides a unique and memorable Instagrammable opportunity for both visitors of the Cloud Forest Reserve as well as for the guests of the nearby Selina Monteverde from which the Chilling Giant’s materials are derived.

The Chilling Giant is the work of Costa Rican principal artist Gabriel Muñoz Ramírez and aided by Argentinean artist Carlos Rodrigo Avalle. The former is world-renowned for his sculpture work while the latter is an expert in mosaic techniques. The body of the structure is composed of countless pieces of rejected wood primarily from Selina Monteverde’s converted and repurposed furniture as well as real estate construction. These pieces are assembled over a metal skeleton. Muñoz Ramírez worked independently on the head, shaping it by hand.

“The final position of the sculpture was clear from the beginning and we knew the materials would be wood and metal,” says Muñoz Ramírez. “The first step was defining the size. The hip was the reference starting point to guide me with the dimensions. Then the feet, the torso, the head and finally the arms, since I had to make sure the shoulders weren’t too big or too small, and that it looked like what I had in mind.

“The skeleton is made of 2x2 inch square tube metal, 1x2 inch metal tube and half-inch plates,” he continues. “Once the skeleton was made, we covered it with the wood. The first layer is longboards and then small pieces of wood to give the final texture. For the face, I used nine wooden blocks. I started by detailing each part: the nose, the mouth, the eyes. When the face was finished, I made a grid with screws and metal plates where I soldered it to the skull in metal and I filled the rest of the head with small pieces.”

As the only sculptor, Muñoz Ramírez made the measurements, but as he says of Avalle as well as his two cabinet making specialist assistants, “We all cut metal and wood, all soldered, all glued. It was a lot of cooperation and good understanding. It was an excellent team.”

The Chilling Giant also ties in with Costa Rica’s ecotourism appeal. The country is a leader in renewable energy. “It’s super sustainable,” says Briceño. “The community asked that the lights be turned down after 10pm. 75% of wildlife activity happens at night. That time is very important so if you have strong lights, the animals go away. That’s just one example of how people are conscious about what they have and they protect it so much, like they are owners of Monteverde.”

Furthermore, 25% of Costa Rica’s territory is reserved as protected. This small area of the world makes up 5% of the earth’s biodiversity. With tourism contributing a great deal to the economy, combining outdoor activities with conservation in Costa Rica comes easily to the indigenous communities, particularly in Monteverde.

Muñoz Ramírez fashioned not only the physical concept for Monteverde’s famous giant but also the concept behind it. He refers to the Chilling Giant as “Clovi” - not its official name, but one Muñoz Ramírez has derived from one of the oldest indigenous cultures in the Americas known as the Clovis. The story goes that the Clovis were on their way from North to South America and after travelling through the Cloud Forest Reserve, sat down to rest and enjoy the natural surroundings. Though it’s a good tale more than a proven fact, Muñoz Ramirez enjoys ascribing to the Chilling Giant.

“The Chilling Giant represents travellers after a day of adventures.,” says Ronald Briceño, the Country Experience Director for Selina in Costa Rica, and the mastermind behind the concept for the upcycled art piece. “You come back tired, maybe wet, maybe cold, have some soup, sit by the fireplace. That’s who the Chilling Giant is.”