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Plastic Fossils is an ongoing body of work aimed to communicate the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality around single-use plastic in a linear economy, from cradle to grave; made from fossil fuel and discarded to plastic shards and artifacts. As a society, we are pushed to produce, consume, and discard to fuel an economy, provide jobs, and advance lifestyles. As someone who finds the natural world filled with incredible intelligence and at the same time admires human ingenuity to construct complex systems to support large human populations, I find the two systems are often at odds due to basic differences in principles. My work aims to capture these paradoxical differences. In particular, I am obsessed with the single-use plastic bottles discarded everywhere polluting water, soil, and air. The bottle is symbolic, even iconic, for a modern human system overcoming the ancient natural one, like an invasive species.
I collect single-use plastic bottles, gathered from friends and neighbors, in order to repurpose them into my artwork. Some are stuffed with single use plastic while others are crushed and twisted. They are layered with discarded paper and gesso to form a surface to apply hand printed papers or painted imagery. Some paper-mache plastic bottles are enhanced with technology while others blend imperceptibly into their backgrounds. My fixation extends to works on paper and ceramics as I contemplate the object represented with other materials. The single-use plastic bottle transforms into a toxic object of beauty to be contemplated rather than discarded with indifference. Currently, I am constructing a chess set from these salvaged single-use vessels. The game is not over.
The work aims to awaken us to see beyond our field of vision to how the linear economic system destroys a cyclical natural one, how the role of the individual and the collective behave in this system, and the dangerous paradox presented in the plastic state of mind. Like the twisted and broken Roman statues preserved in museums tell of a past empire, plastic will be preserved in the land, water, and air to tell of yet another empire.
Remember the opening scene from 1967 film, “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman? Ben, played by Dustin Hoffman, is asked by Joanne, one of the guests at his graduate party what he plans to do with his life and future post graduation. Mr. McGuire interrupts the two to offer some private paternal advise. He recommends the field of plastics because there is big money in plastics. Plastics did become big business. But like most economic/business plans it excludes the cost to the environment and health for all life forms. Plastics, particularly single use plastics, have become one of the biggest pollutants. The fossil fuel industry as partners in the plastic production industry also benefitted financially since plastic is made from fossil fuels. Now that oil industry faces existential crisis as the planet grows warmer and renewable energy becomes more common, oil companies are spending billions pivot to produce plastics. As workers and consumers we are participants in this business plan. The United States cannot keep up with the amount of trash produced from plastics. In response they pay other countries, usually poorer countries, to take our trash who in turn dump most of it in the ocean and rivers. It is a vicious cycle to reduce any financial burden for taking environmental responsibility on the part of the plastic producers, increase producers revenue, and push the problem to other countries. These works represent the hidden plastic cycle. Corporations creating or using single use plastic are at odds with global warming. All images are © copyright.