If you’ve ever had upgrading or remodeling done on your property or even witnessed any construction, you know that the amount of discarded material from demolition and refurbishment is immense, no matter how small the job. A practical yet creative way to circumvent the waste is to reinvent it as up-cycled art. For a location like Monteverde, the emerald crown jewel of Costa Rica, known for the proactiveness of its natives in sustainably preserving their habitat, up-cycling is a natural fit.
The concept of up-cycling, according to Merriam-Webster, is taking items that are otherwise useless and unwanted and transforming them into fresh products of value. In other words, turning trash into treasure. Upcycling is not a recent practice, certainly not in art circles. For example, American 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 some of the most revered museums across the globe. Yuken Teruya, who is based in New York and Berlin, 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, there is the Chilling Giant. This immense upcycled sculpture sits near the city’s 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, the wood and metal creation is, indeed, a giant. The imposing sculpture provides a unique, memorable, and Instagrammable opportunity for both visitors of the Cloud Forest Reserve and the guests of the nearby Selina Monteverde, from which the Chilling Giant’s materials are derived.
The Chilling Giant was created by renown Costa Rican artist Gabriel Muñoz Ramírez, with the aid of Argentinean artist Carlos Rodrigo Avalle. The former is world-renowned for his sculpture work, while the latter is an expert in mosaic techniques. The structure’s body comprises countless rejected wood pieces, primarily from Selina Monteverde’s converted and repurposed furniture. These pieces are assembled over a metal skeleton. Muñoz Ramírez worked on the head, shaping it by hand.
“The final position of the sculpture was clear from the beginning, and we knew that the materials would be wood and metal,” says Muñoz Ramírez.
“The first step was defining the size. The hip was the 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 2×2 inch square tube metal, 1×2 inch metal tube, and half-inch plates. Once the skeleton was made, we covered it with 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 the entire project was a product of cooperation between him, Avalle, and 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 eco-tourism appeal. According to ProQuest’s CultureGrams database, the country is a leader in renewable energy. 25 percent of Costa Rica’s territory is reserved as protected. This small area of the world makes up 5 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity. With tourism contributing a great deal to the economy, combining the appeal of Costa Rica’s outdoor activities with the preservation of its terrain comes easily to the natives, particularly in Monteverde.
Muñoz Ramírez has created not only the sculpture of the giant in Monteverde but also a concept behind it, which is a part legend, part theory, but mainly, just a good story. He refers to the Chilling Giant as Clovi. It is derived from the Clovis, which, according to the Smithsonian, is a name of one of the oldest indigenous cultures in the Americas. As the story goes, the Clovis were on their way from North to South America, and after going through the Cloud Forest Reserve, they sat down to rest, enjoy nature, and people-watch. This is a good tale more than it is a proven fact but is the story that Muñoz Ramirez enjoys ascribing to the Chilling Giant.
“The Chilling Giant represents travelers 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.”