The environmental, ecological and biological consequences of household plastic waste are currently receiving wide attention. First invented in 1907, plastic is now seemingly indispensable in everyday human life. Globally about 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year. In just over 110 years it has become established as one of the cheapest, and most useful, durable and pliable materials ever invented. Food and drink are transported, wrapped, prepared, stored and disposed of in plastic. Plastic technologies in medical science save thousands of lives daily. It has contributed to sea, air and land transport systems becoming faster and more efficient. Phones, televisions, computers, clothing, bathrooms, bedrooms, cars, kitchens, school rooms and galleries all depend on plastic products to function. It is also one of modern industry’s most disregarded and readily discarded products; half of the plastic produced in the world is single-use, 8 million tonnes enter our oceans each year, and more than 60 million plastic bottles are disposed of everyday. The result has been plastics entering the environment and food chain at macro and micro levels. While on the one hand plastic contributes to preservation of life, as a toxic and waste product it is destroying marine and terrestrial environments; killing fish, birds and animals. It seems foolhardy to turn the clock back eleven decades to again live without it, and yet we cannot continue to discard plastic at current rates, ignoring the devastating impact on our planet. This project explores plastic waste as an art medium while questioning the implications of plastics amalgamating with organic bodies and natural environments.
Over a 12-month period all plastic waste generated by my household–that in the past would have been either sent to landfill or recycled–was gathered, washed and reused. Each week I photographed and cleaned the plastic waste, and at the end of every four weeks created sculptures and associated artworks with what had accumulated. The plastic collected between 17thSeptember 2017 and 16thSeptember 2018 resulted in 15 sculptures, 52 photographs, various 2D assemblages and drawings, and several hours of digital video footage of plastic sheeting rustling in the breeze as it hung from my clothesline in the backyard (waste from a greenhouse installation). Continued collection of household plastic waste from 2019 until 2021 and plastic waste gathered on Phillip Island, Victoria between December 2020 and November 2021 contributed to a further series of sculptures inspired by the marine environment.
Although an aim was to reduce the amount of plastic entering the environment, rather than prohibition, I chose instead to monitor and minimise our consumption of single-use plastic, and to intercept the cycle before it became garbage. I was interested in observing whether this changed our plastic use, and what contributed to motivating any changes.
I was particularly curious about properties of plasticity, therefore the resulting body of work considers plastic as a malleable material interwoven with existence not just physically, but also psychically. Themes relating to flows between organic and inorganic elements; gender and child play; the domestic and the everyday; and myth, belief and reality emerge variously. While the way plastic is intertwined–and in many cases inhered–with environments and lifeforms is a central concern, how we think and feel about plastic ultimately determines what we do with it.
This project has resulted in two solo exhibitions: Plasticity at the Switchback Gallery, Churchill, Victoria and Plasticity 2 at the Warragul Regional Arts Centre, Warragul, Victoria. To see artworks included in these exhibitions go to the ‘Exhibitions’ tab on the home page.
Plastic Oceans International 2018
Plastic Oceans International 2018
Franklin, P. (2006), Down the Drain, Recycling,May-June 2006, pp: 62-65