When you walk into the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens to your right over to the red bridge, there is a tall structure, resembling two coffins that are connected in the middle to create a cross. This armature is open, when facing it you can see inside. The coffins are filled with commonly used disposable plastic products, such as medicine bottles, childrens toys and Christmas decorations. There is a poem hung in front of the sculpture.
New Religion, (2011) by DeWayne Barton
Our self-destructive patterns
Waste. War. Consumption.
Gambling with our children’s future has brought us to a standstill…
Or you might say- a crossroads.
New patterns must begin.
Old patterns to the grave forgotten
But will there be time?
A great disconnect has driven us from common ground;
Children’s toys often reinforce this self-destructive behavior through generations
What will it take to be born again and reverse our direction?
Born again into a culture of sustainability that is inclusive and just
A new religion
Together, value Earth-our heaven.
The poem spoke of how wasteful our society has been and that now we have come to a “Crossroads”. We have been left with the wasteful trash of our ancestors and have been born into a society that is now accustomed to needless consumption and careless disposal. If we are to continue on this path of thoughtless waste, the demise of our planet will follow. Still the poem gives us hope by calling for change. It refers to how we have to make new and better choices if we are to continue to survive and prosper. To do this we must be innovative with our plastic “trash”. One way of doing this is through taking that plastic waste and creating something new. This is demonstrated with the sculpture Crossroads as it brings awareness of plastic consumption to those visiting the Peace Gardens. People around the world are using art to come together in their communities and individually to re-purpose discarded plastics and educate others about the issue of plastic consumption.
Communities making a Change with Plastic Art
A work of art can pull a community closer together when overcoming an issue and can make a impactful statement for others to consider. The sculpture “Crossroads” was created as so many other installations in the Peace Gardens from trash that was dumped in the Burton Street community, this one specifically from plastic. Having to deal with this disrespectful disposal of waste a community responded by taking a pile of garbage and created a work of art. Sadly there are many places through the world that are being polluted by outsiders’ plastic waste. A huge problem is humans polluting waterways with plastic. According to OurWorldInData.org, “as of 2014 there is estimated to be 5 trillion plastic particles in the world's surface water.”(Ritchie, Roser) After destroying animals’ habitats and killing sea life, many of those plastics end up washing back onto the shores.
One example of this plastic garbage polluting a shore happened to a remote Aboriginal town of Pormpuraaw. According to Sebag-Montefiore, a journalist for The Guardian the town has a population of about 700 people has been affected by this plastic waste. The shorelines are covered in washed up garbage. A particular problem for the area are large plastic fishing nets called ghost nets, that can reach up to a kilometer long.(Sebag-Montefiore) Sebag-Montefiore quotes Jakubowski about the impact of this pollution:
“It’s a particularly vile form of pollution,” says the manager of the Pormpuraaw Art and Culture Centre, Paul Jakubowski, 57, as he looks out to sea. “Three hundred and ninety by-species are killed in the nets, including things like sea turtles, and dolphins and whales. You’re affecting a traditional food source and a very important current food source.” (Sebag-Montefiore)
In response to this pollution many members in this community started making larger than life aquatic sculptures by using the ghost nets in traditional weaving methods.The art centre manager Jakubowski comments on the artists’ process by saying, “It’s a very traditional theme behind the work but done in modern materials that are found and recycled … I like to think the ghost net work embraces the past and the future.”(Sebag-Montefiore) Much of the town is impoverished and has minimal job opportunities due to how isolated it is.(Sebag-Montefiore) By using the plastic waste this community has found a way to provide themselves with job opportunities, the ability to travel and the power to educate others on the decrease in ocean life that they have experienced. These sculptures can sell for up to $15,000, with 65% going to the artist and 35% to the art centre.(Sebag-Montefiore) This community is one example of many people repurposing plastics to create new products.
Individuals that have repurposed plastics into Art
Plastic is a readily accessible material. You can find it for free just by walking down the street. A man named Mbongeni Buthelezi has realized a unique possibility for this free supply. He calls it “plastic painting”. Born in South Africa Mbongeni started collecting discarded plastics from the streets and dumpsters, then by using a heat gun he melts the plastic onto a thick plastic roofing surface, to create large scale “paintings”.(Buthelezi) Mobogeni says, “I use rubbish to create something beautiful. I collect something that has no value and give it new life. That’s what we can do with ourselves and our lives.” (Portfolio Mbongeni Buthelezi) This man found a way to recycle plastics through art using his own unique style.
An in progress shot of the Fish Sculpture by David Earl Tomlinson
Locally artists are also using plastics in their work. Here in Asheville an Artist named David Earl Tomlinson, partnered with Greenworks to make a fish armature out of scrap metal. This sculpture has a mesh stomach that allows you to see inside the fish, witch is filled with trash that was pulled out from local rivers, much of witch is plastic. It is located at a boat launch next to the Greenworks organization. Greenworks is a local organization who’s online statement describes themselves by saying, “With thousands of volunteers, we engage the community in grassroots projects such as urban forestry, environmental cleanups, anti-litter and waste reduction education, creation of green spaces, care and preservation of Asheville’s rivers and trees.”(greenwork.org)
This fish sculpture is a commentary of the pollution of waterways. When talking to Eric Bradford, the director of operations at Greenworks about this sculpture, he informed me that it was inspired by the logo that they made for a project called “Trash Trout”. He tells me more about Trash Trout by explaining that “75% of the trash that we find in our rivers starts on the side of the road and every time it rains the trash is pushed into a storm drain and these drains empty right into the creek.” To help combat this issue Greenworks has installed two “Trash Trouts”. These are devices that sit in waterways to capture stormwater generated trash. When you look on the Greenworks website they are keeping track of how many pounds of plastic that these devices have captured. The original Trash Trout located in the Mud Creek has captured over 2,400 lbs and counting. The more recent Trash Trout at Hominy Creek is currently at 356 lbs.
The Trash Trout at Hominy Creek, Asheville NC
How you can get involved
Greenworks is a great organization to get involved with if your interested in volunteering your time to help the environment. One performance art related project that you can volunteer for, is called The Bag Monster. Geared towards kids, this is an educational performance where someone dresses up as The Bag Monster, in a full body suit made from 500 plastic bags. Before this performance a more serious character talks to the kids about facts involving plastic bags. Eric Bradford tells me a few of these facts include, “The average american uses 500 plastic bags per year and of that number, 87% doesn’t get recycled. It is the second most littered item in the world. The only thing ahead of that is plastic water bottles.” After these facts are shared with the children, the bag Monster is introduced. He seems to represent needless consumerism. The monster just wants more and more plastic products and encourages the children to do the same by saying things such as “You need me, you could never get home with all your groceries without me”. This “monster” starts to aggravate the kids by pushing this idea of plastic necessity on them. So while this is a fun interactive monster it does play the role of the “bad guy” witch gets the children to the conclusion of not wanting to use plastic bags. After this presentation the children will be able to make their own smaller version of the Bag Monster that they can return to a grocery store to recycle them. It's important to note that while Greenworks does encourage people to use less plastic and properly recycle plastic, they know that plastic does have many uses Eric Bradford tells me that:
“What we are trying to do is talk to folks about how much plastic your using. We’re not saying that plastic isn’t an important thing for humans. We do use it in a lot of different ways and it's very helpful in some ways. I have a cousin that has a plastic hip. So I understand that it does a lot of great things if used correctly but we completely misuse it. So what we try to do is talk to folks from that angle and say to them, how can you slow down just a little bit? A sort of pumping of the breaks on your plastic usage.”
Another way to get involved is by your own creativity. Before you throw something away ask yourself if there is another use for it? Or if you can transform it into something totally new? If we open our minds to new possibilities simple trash can be transformed into our personal artistic vision. A man named Dave Hakkens has found a way to help people all around the world accomplish this. He has a step by step process that turns everyday appliances into machines that will melt down plastics and transform them into new products that you design. If you visit his website, Precious Plastic, you can download these processes for free and then sell your products online globally. The beginning of his mission statement says: “Precious Plastic is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. Knowledge, tools and techniques are shared online, for free. So everyone can start (yes, you too!).”(Hakkens)
Art is one of many ways to creatively reuse plastics. The sculpture “Crossroads” is a local example of this. The inspiration of the poem New Religion strengthens the overall message of this art piece. It's important to remember how the poem tells us to start making new patterns for ourselves, so we can be “Born again into a culture of sustainability that is inclusive and just”. To do this we have to begin to be more creative with our used plastics, find ways to repurpose them instead of haphazardly discarding them. If you can’t think of something you may want to create from them, I encourage you to properly dispose of them. Most grocery stores accept plastic bags and a program called Hard 2 Recycle will accept things you usually can’t recycle such as electronics.(Greenworks) Art can also be an important way to educate. By involving the community in these art projects about plastic consumerism it will hopefully inspire more people to change their habits and encourage the next generation to make new progressive plastic usage habits.
Buthelezi, M. (2016) - retrieved from: http://mbongenibuthelezi.com/
Hakkens, D. - Precious Plastic retrieved from: https://preciousplastic.com
Ritchie, H. and Roser, M. (2018) - Plastic Pollution. OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution
Portfolio Mbongeni Buthelezi. Themelrosegallery.co.za. retrieved from: http://www.themelrosegallery.co.za/portfolio/mbongeni-buthelezi Sebag-Montefiore, C. (2017,July 12) - Ghost nets: the remote town turning death-trap debris into world-class art. theguardian.com. retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jul/12/ghost-nets-the-remote-town-turning-death-trap-debris-into-world-class-art