Spring Week 9: Plastic Bag Jellyfish

For my presentation this week, I made three jellyfish out of clear plastic bags, which hang from the art department ceiling by thin, white, almost invisible thread. The piece is a continuation of my environmental work; particularly my WEEK 7 work which focused on how turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, eat them, and get poisoned.

The plastic jellyfish are ironic; the plastic bags are made to look like the very thing they are mistaken for. They are meant to portray how similar plastic bags look to jellyfish; the plastic material looks extremely similar, so the point is to show how easy it is for sea turtles to make the mistake. I also had the jellyfish hanging from the ceiling because I wanted audiences to walk through or under them, as if they were a sea turtle. The jellyfish, unlike the plastic bags from WEEK 7, were left alone without any manifesto or story to explain their purpose. This is because that week we were encouraged to experiment; to deviate from our current work as much as possible, in order to find new ideas for our practice. The purpose of the piece is partly to stop plastic bags from being thrown away by making them into jellyfish, as well as raising awareness of how similar the two appear.

I made the jellyfish by cutting plastic bags into a large circle and several strips for the tentacles and fastening them together using superglue. Depending on the type of plastic, superglue did not always work that well, so I often used staples instead.

I was inspired to create this because my previous WEEK 7 work was based on the floor, which detracted from its presence. The logical opposite was to hang my work from the ceiling to give it more presence, and from there came the idea of making jellyfish. Hanging from the ceiling also gave them the appearance of being submerged and floating around. I was also inspired by the artwork of KHALIL CHISHTEE, who makes life-sized human sculptures out of plastic bags. I wanted to capture the eeriness of Chishtee’s sculptures, and found plastic bags were an ideal medium for this because they are faintly translucent, making them appear ghostly. I was also inspired by ROBERT GOBER’s work, because his sculptures are often extremely eerie and have little explanation as to what they are and why they’re there, a powerful effect which I wanted to echo with my Jellyfish.

I am pleased with the way the individual jellyfish appear – hanging down from the ceiling on almost invisible threads, they appear ghostly and create an uneasy atmosphere, thereby portraying plastic as an uncomfortable, negative topic. However, there were not enough jellyfish to create a real impact here in my opinion – jellyfish are often seen in huge swarms, and having just three doesn’t reflect their true nature. This was reflected in my feedback – although the jellyfish provided a different new avenue for my practice, my feedback stated they were reminiscent of a mobile or decoration. This artwork had promise but had not been explored to its full potential. The whole point of hanging my art from the ceiling is so that it takes up more space and has more presence, so I could either make the jellyfish much larger or make many more of them.

For the following week, I aimed to not only create more jellyfish but consider the space in which they were hung. This artwork explores 3-D space, and therefore requires careful consideration as its physical context.

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The starting point – a single, clear, co-op plastic bag.

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Cutting the bag in half revealed to me how much material I had to work with – roughly about 2 square feet.
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I cut a circle of about 11″ diameter out of the plastic, and by folding up the edges and holding the folds in place with superglue, I made a dome shape to represent the jellyfish’s head.
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Close-up view of one of the folds
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The finished dome.

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In preparation to make more jellyfish, I took some pictures of the art department and drew some prototypes to see how more jellyfish might look:

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