Building a Sanctuary with Scraps: An interview with El Cerrito Creative ReUse Artist Residency Awardee Kloe Chan

When contemplating waste and reuse, seldom do discussions touch upon safety, identity, and history. Kloe Chan, however, pioneers a transformative approach to waste, both in metaphorical and physical realms, crafting brilliant works of art. At its core, Kloe’s creations aspire to illuminate, initiate dialogue, and provide solace to those in need.

Born and raised in the bustling metropolitan landscape of Shanghai, Kloe yearned for a connection to nature amid the urban sprawl. Artistic expression has always been integral to Kloe’s life, spending summers creating art with siblings and embodying a playful group of storytellers and creatives. Despite this artistic inclination, the rapid urbanization of their community distanced them from the beautiful natural world emphasized in the ancient Chinese poetry they had learned of in school, fueling Kloe’s desire to bridge the gap.

From the age of six, Kloe’s fascination with trash burgeoned, developing a keen awareness of its origin and destination. Recognizing humans as the sole species generating non-biodegradable waste, Kloe reflects on our struggle to coexist harmoniously with nature.

“Human beings are the only living species that produce trash that doesn’t naturally go back to the ecosystem- we have intelligence to make choices and actions but also, we are also so dumb that we can’t live in harmony with nature- we can’t be a part of it in a way that feels reciprocal and not taking, exploiting, and removing from other living beings. We are still figuring it out.”

-Kloe Chan

Challenging societal norms dictating the need for premium art supplies, Kloe embraced creative reuse as their artistic journey’s guiding principle. Shifting from an Animation Major to Sculpture and Community Arts at the California College of the Arts, Kloe sought agency in crafting works that echoed their experiences and identity.


“Deconstruct garments to feel the hands of those who constructed it.”

“Dye the strips of fabric in Avocado pits to smear my waste on it.”

“Practice Chinese on it with rust water to reclaim my language.”

“Sew it back into matching sister outfits to re-embrace those who truly matter.”

Kloe’s art delves into lived experiences using waste and reuse materials. By dismantling and recontextualizing items deemed unworthy, they offer a fresh perspective on what society deems undesirable. The culmination of Kloe’s dedication to reuse is evident in their work showcased in the El Cerrito Creative ReUse Artist Residency Program, titled “I Will Knit Us a Sanctuary.” What started as a modest project blossomed into a monumental reuse installation, enveloping the space, and inviting visitors to explore Kloe’s inner world as well as donated, salvaged, and repurposed fabrics, fibers, and furnishings.


“For the longest time, the space between sheets has been the safest place I could imagine. It is the place where I heard my grandmother whisper a prayer every night before falling asleep, where my sister and I cried over the death of Dumbledore and then over Professor Snape after reading the latest Harry Potter book, where I stayed up with my best friends to dawn at our first sleepover. The space between sheets was my safe haven, until it was violated by another.”


Linking sanctuary and safety within the confines of their creations, Kloe draws parallels to the loss of safety resulting from violation and harm. With each knot, Kloe reclaims safety and shelter not only for themselves but for others, transforming waste into a haven of refuge and intimacy.



Photos courtesy of Webster Ngoc Nguyen of RecycleMore.