Easter Holidays: Making Plastic Useless, by Making it Art

I have been working on a piece with two main components – a canvas made entirely of plastic drinking straws stuck together side-by-side, with a landscape painted on it. In front of this is a face scrub bottle on a plinth, rotating slowly, with the same landscape painted on it.

This work encapsulates all the work I’ve been doing for my environmental series, because it claims old pieces of plastic for the art world, encourages respect and admiration for the natural world, and contains the irony of art simultaneously being ‘useles’ and actually saving the planet by removing the normal uses of plastic. It is also a nod to my Christmas Project, because although the message is very different, it encapsulates the same arrangement: an object on a plinth accompanying an image on the wall. I like to think this means my work has come full circle.

The piece considers the usefulness of plastic and tries to remove that usefulness by turning it into an art piece – as Oscar Wilde famously said, “All art is quite useless.” It also brings together the worlds of nature and plastic, which could be interpreted as ironic because they’re so different, however since plastic is sadly so common in nature this juxtaposition actually represents a sad truth – that the worlds of plastic and nature do collide, causing misery to wildlife.

The piece communicates ideas using two different explorations of space – one 2-D, and one 3-D – which creates a duality of the landscape. The purpose is to claim two famously environmentally unfriendly uses of plastic – straws and microbeads (in the face scrub) – for the art world. The two spatial representations of the landscape aim to represent the depth and magnificence of natural forms.

 I made the canvas by arranging an estimated 440 plastic straws side-by-side and fastening them together using electrical tape. I used acrylic paint because it adds to the theme of using plastic for art. Because plastic is very difficult to paint on, it took a few coats of diluted white paint on both the bottle and the canvas to prime it.

The spatial aspect of this was inspired by Olafur Eliasson, Mariele Neudecker and Ann Hamilton. These artists explore the effects and differences between 2-D and 3-D space, and they inspired me to do the same with my work. I was also inspired greatly by Khalil Chishtee, whose practice taught me that found materials, despite their status as ‘used up,’ have great potential to spark detailed, complex artwork.

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