The ‘Think Plastic: Materials and Making’ exhibition brings together artists and scientists to explore the possibilities of transferring sustainable, recycliable and environmentally reponsible plastics from the laboratory into artwork. I visited the exhibition on Sunday 2nd February and was entralled with what can be achieved through adopting an alternative relationship with plastic and how we can use and reuse it. Such an exhibition has made me increasingly aware of the complex world of sustainable plastics, of such material choices and their impact on the environment. This exhibition maps out the creative journey of the Think Plastic Group including Carla Edwards, Lorna Fraser, Fiona Hutchison, Fiona Pilgrim, Carol Sinclair, Michael P. Shaver and Peter Wilkie.
Lorna Fraser, ceramic artist who is inspired by the botanical world created Time to look in the mirror (2019-20) for this exhibition. On becoming increasingly aware of the scale of plastic waste generated within hospital environments she collected single-use syringes for saline with the intent to reduce, reuse and recycle. The plastic syringes were combined with materials from her own studio to create mini arenas for self-reflection with the aid of a mirror, to encourage the viewer to think about their own use of plastic. That said Lorna Fraser also produced Parasol Fungi (2019) from recycled water bottles. The artist created this idea of microorganisms emerging from the forrest or ocean floor which was inspired from learning about plastic-eating fungi. This beautiful composition was the artists attempt to enable all to see the beauty of plastic, to think of plastic as a valuable material which no longer needs to be so readily discarded and thrown away.
As stated by Professor Michael Shaver, Professor of Polymer Science, University of Manchester ‘Plastics are often demonised, but are frequently a lower energy alternative due to their creation and processing and their low weight minimising the impact of their transport. But without an end of life circularity, global waste will continue to grow. We must make smart choices to minimise the carbon footprint of our materials, but also improve our management of this waste and increase recycling rates and upcycling’ (2019). Carol Sinclair is a ceramic artist with an interest in green chemistry and designing molecular properties. Through the creation of objects and installations she explores the themes of memory and connection. Memory Bank Reconsidered (2019-20) used different making processes and material to reduce the impact of daily consumption on the environment. Materials were recycled and new materials were experimented with to reduce waste.
Fiona Hutchison has used tapestry weaving techniques to research all things maritime to help express her love of sailing and the sea. In questioning our relationship with the environment, she reused materials to create new work. The abundance of polyester bale strapping meant that she could experiment with this material and be led by such properties in the development of Wake (2019-20). The series of smaller works Water: Surf, Wave, Whirlpool (2019-20) was in response to the surface of the sea. It is an emotional representation of journeys remembered. Through such portrayal there is a strong sense of just how important the sea is to the artist as well as the planet.
In considering my own relationship with nature, the ocean and tapestry weaving this approach fits with my own ethos. I have started to consider my own creative response to this exhibition, to think about the use and reuse of plastic, how I can recycle plastic in my making. Future coastal walks will be led by collecting plastic for larger scale tapestry weavings.
Lorna Fraser produced Plantation at Risk (2019-20) which was influenced by research on Sapotaceae. The Sapotaceae are a family of flowering plants belonging to the order Ericales. The family includes about 800 species of evergreen trees and shrubs which is one of the latex-yielding families, known for the production of Gutta percha, chicle (chewing) gum, timber, edible flowers, fruits, and oil seeds. Now that such plantations are threatened the artist was inspired to depict images of the plantation on gutta percha panels.
Another artwork by Lorna Fraser was Lichen Wall (2019) which was made from recycled plastic from refrigerators. The artist noted that Lichens are used as environmental indicators and become abundant if the air is clean. She has studied lichens for many years and wished to create a lichen inspired work. Lorna Fraser wanted to juxtapose lichens which represent clean air with recycled refrigerator plastic as it is known as an air polluter as a reminder of environmental costs and benefits.