In October 2021 Kate Crawfurd and I had responded to a call-out from Plymouth City Council to create a sculpture involving community engagement to highlight issues of plastic pollution, with funding from the Preventing Plastic Pollution Coalition and Interreg EU. The sculpture would be exhibited outside for a period of 3 years. Our plan was to build a giant spiral maze that people could walk into, consisting of steel-mesh baskets filled with plastic waste collected by communities, businesses and schools.
We set out to engage local communities, run workshops and find suitable venues for the build and final installation. After many months of setbacks and frustration, investigating numerous venues for the project, and being let down by potential landlords of a promised city centre premises, Kate Crawfurd and I decided to abandon plans for the spiral maze, and change course completely towards developing an installation and performance at Leadworks CIC Gallery space in Rendle Street, Plymouth. We are most grateful to the wonderful staff at Leadworks who made us so welcome and helped with the installation.
We had only 6 weeks to produce a show worthy of our sponsors and the efforts that so many contributors and supporters. We are very proud of the plastic pollution workshops we ran engaging over a hundred children, producing plastic waste dreamcatchers and developing the finale performance. A poster competition produced inspiring entries from talented young people, and nine were hung in the gallery for the show. The Plastic Waste Band emanated from further workshops, using materials from Plymouth Scrapstore, and performed at the finale.
The Finale Exhibition ‘Waste…of Our Time‘ ran for 4 days from Weds 6th to Sat 9th April 2022. Visitors were greeted by ‘The Insatiables‘, plastic packaging body casts hung along the entrance corridor, then entered the large gallery space with a giant orange plastic rope ‘Dreamcatcher‘ slung across the beams. Everyone was encouraged to write or draw on a coloured label to attach their messages, dreams and hopes for the future to the Dreamcatcher.
Changing coloured lights highlighted the spiral forms of the ‘Fossils of the Anthropocene‘ hanging from the Dreamcatcher, and the giant ‘REFUSE bin‘ featuring the detritus of generations, starting from disposable nappies and plastic bottles at the bottom, through cheap plastic toys to computers, dog poo bags, synthetic clothing, balloons and woggles. Children were encouraged to write and draw on the floor in chalks, and discuss their ideas about plastic pollution.
The eerie sound-scape, incorporating the voices of children involved in the workshops, was created by Alena Toms from Uni of Plymouth.
Books and information leaflets were available explaining the scale of plastic pollution and how we can all REFUSE – REDUCE – REUSE – RECYCLE
Alan Qualtrough of Kiss & Bite Press kindly leant us his Adana Printing Press with a unique stamp to print souvenir post-cards during the exhibition.
The final day featured the procession of the 20m long snake of plastic milk bottles accompanied by much chanting of slogans and the Plastic Waste Band, along Rendle Street, through Leadworks cafe and up into the main gallery, where it was ceremonially coiled on the floor in a large spiral. Heather Brown, poet and artist, performed her wonderful poem Seaweed about plastic pollution, and Liz Cole of Plymouth City Council congratulated us on the success of the project, with approximately 150 visitors to the exhibition alone.
This video by local filmmaker Jim Baldwin summarises the final show and the major elements, including the giant ‘Dreamcatcher‘ and my uncanny plastic packaging ‘Insatiables’…
Thank you to everyone involved, particularly our sponsors the Preventing Plastic Pollution Coalition with Interreg EU, Plymouth Octopus Project, Liz Cole of Plymouth City Council, Morgan Sindall Construction who helped us develop plans for the spiral maze, Plymouth Scrapstore and Leadworks CIC.
Encouraging positive feedback was received, with many seeming enthusiastic and empowered to change.
Written comments included:
‘Inspirational and so well thought out. Hits between the eyes.‘
‘Brilliant thought-provoking public engagement project. Really made me think about my own personal use of plastic in my own life/work. ‘
‘Great. Let’s have some more…‘
The project illustrated the power of art to influence perceptions and thought processes about such vital issues at this time of crisis for our planet. It gives me some hope for the future.
The current neoliberal politics driven by vested interests perpetuates the world’s demand for fossil fuels (and plastic) which drive climate change and the horrific consequences which we see occurring now across the world, with wars over natural resources, floods, famine, mass migration and environmental devastation. For all our sakes this must change.
Please contact me if you are interested in showing any of the work from this exhibition to a wider audience.