Using art to tackle plastic pollution
Robyn Seabright was a student at Edinburgh College of Art when she became concerned about the impact of plastic on our planet. She tells us about why she chose to focus her final year project on raising awareness of the issue.
As an artist, I am interested in the patterns, habits and behaviours of modern consumption. Reading ‘Turning the Tide on Plastic’ by Lucy Siegle motivated a review of my own consumption and the environmental impact of my lifestyle and artistic practice. The book suggests methods a person can take to tackle their own consumption. Monitoring my own use, I noticed, like never before, my heavy reliance on plastic as a material. It was is in everything I wore and wrapped over almost everything I ate.
Up until that point I was so focused on my personal day (University work, friends, exercise, washing, cleaning and all the other things we need to do to keep going) and plastic made all these other things easier. I didn’t stop to consider that my actions were causing harm and I committed to changing my relationship with plastic and to be mindful of my own consumption in the future.
Going plastic-free was unattainable at this time, so I started to change my actions cutting out single use plastics bit by bit. As a student, food shopping was my greatest plastic dependency, I set out to create a piece of artwork using the discarded plastic carrier bags I had collected, aiming to transform how plastic is perceived. Hand stitching the piece together indicated care and value through the investment of time. The distinct colour pallet of the plastic bags creates striking imagery to capture the viewer’s attention thus applying thought and value to these easily discarded objects. Showing the materials alternative potential, I hoped to challenge perceptions.
With the majority of shopping in the UK done online, I was very aware of the prolific use of plastic packaging, specifically in the form of plastic air cushions, exemplifying the huge scale of single-use plastic. They essentially make the air a commodity, meaning plastic used in this way is a lightweight and cheap way to pack and protect items bought online. I was shocked when witnessing the waste created by bursting the plastic air cushions once the package had been received.
This is a clear example of easily dismissed consumption and disposal, it felt like all the progress to reduce plastic use was undone in that single moment. From this instant I wanted the work to evoke reflection for personal consumption in others, as the book ‘Turning the Tide on Plastic’ had done for me, while representing plastic in a recognisable yet significant way. The sculptural process of casting creates copies of the same object thus implying mass production and consumption and can transform the everyday mundane to monumental through the act of repetition.
Its form has a direct relationship with the architectural style of the ancient Greeks and resembles a Doric column, a symbol of wealth and power. This is in contrast to our modern world where plastic packaging is considered disposable. The monumental construction and destruction of our actions will outlive our existence and thus waste material is as much a part of our legacy as new knowledge or discoveries. ‘Consumption’ is my means of challenging the perceptions of our own legacy.
This is an ongoing project for me and in February – March 2020 I will be exhibiting some of my work at the New Contemporaries Exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh.
Contact her on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Image credit: Neil Hanna