I have just finished designing three pieces of art embellished with plastic. They are Plastic Ocean 1, Plastic Ocean 2 and Underwater Garden. It has been a long and winding road that led me to the point where I felt it important to make a statement about the massive quantities of plastic in our oceans.
I have been an avid recycler for 30+ years. I just assumed if I were recycling it, good was coming of it; yet I was astonished when visiting other states that had different recycling standards, if at all. Or other counties just in the Bay Area. Some recycle styrofoam, some don’t. Some take food containers while others don’t. Huh?…Aren’t we all living on the same planet?
So I was just going along being a good consumer, recycling as much as I could, when it suddenly came to my attention that there is a whole lot of plastic floating out there in the ocean. At first I was thinking, OMG, that is not right but really not thinking about it much more than that.
Then I began to see on social media, especially, more and more posts about ALL the plastic in the ocean. I befriended folks who are picking up trash on beaches world-wide. I learned about the fish choking on plastic, turtles with straws lodged in their nose, marine mammals caught in fishing nets & line. I saw videos of tidal waves of plastic churning worldwide, and kids playing in a surf of plastic debris. It was becoming more and more difficult to avoid thinking about it; the I am doing my part by recycling, this does not affect me school of thought. It began to dawn on me that with education this is quite possibly something humans can have an impact on in the world. So why not educate through art?!
Last winter I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and see these incredible sculptures by Sayaka Ganz . She designed huge installations just from plastic trash recovered from the oceans. I was intrigued by these works, and the mind that created them.
I began to think about my own work, and my own voice. Since I was wearing braces on my lower teeth and using a huge amount of plastic toothpicks to clean my teeth, I began to collect them. Someone actually said eeew! to me about using my used oral implements, but in reality isn’t all of this plastic debris eeew?!
I continued to collect whatever plastic I was using. I stopped buying food packaged in single use plastic, abandoning my favorite place to buy groceries when they could not say if or when they will replace this packaging. I wrote to all the major grocers in my area and asked that they stop using single use plastic. Some replied they are ‘working on it’ while others told me to tell the produce guy next time I am in the store…talk about passing the buck!
So as my personal plastic collection was growing, I began to design elements for these quilts. I stitched, both by hand and machine the aforementioned dental picks to a water soluble fiber. I punched guitar picks out of a collection of expired credit cards, drivers licenses and hotel room keys. Then I hand stitched those to the water soluble fiber. I cut disks from remnants of pool noodles, which I use most often to ship my work. I culled the newspaper bags (don’t even get me started on why the newspaper has to be robed in plastic every day year round, or worse why do we still subscribe!)
After designing and stitching two identical quilts, I began to hand-stitch the various plastic remnants on to it. I learned a few things. One, even using teflon sheets and pressing from the back, the heat will melt the plastic! Two, plastic is really hard to sew through! Three, while hand-stitching is so meditative, hand-stitching around plastic is not. Four, while I never make work specific to a theme, my initial intention for this work shifted halfway through. I went a completely new direction, and crammed in one more piece to make a submission deadline, for an environmental center. If my work is chosen I will be making minimally 2-5 more pieces for the exhibit next year!
For these pieces I used the aforementioned newspaper bags, various other plastic bags, berry baskets, berry basket liners, toothpicks, pool noodles, food containers, credit cards, hotel room keys, drivers licenses, foil blister packs, nuno felt, paint and screen-printing.
All throughout construction, I did not allow myself to think about how to store this work, which essentially cannot be bent, or rolled. Or so I thought. Actually I was able to roll all three together around a cardboard tube, and then place in one bag. That was maybe the easiest part!
While I wait for the jury results, I am going to sort/purge my print studio, which is really overdue. And then start in on my next series about elder women….or possibly sew more plastic!