In a Plastiquarium, of course!
Plastiquarium is the creation of artist David Edgar, whose work was pointed out to me long ago by an astute Fake Plastic Fish reader. According to legend:
The Plastiquarium is immersed in mystery. Modern myth suggests that a century of increasing phosphate levels in Earth’s marine environment caused new, synthetic life forms to emerge. As recyclable HDPE plastic containers spread concentrates of consumer product pollutants, the Plastiquarium creatures evolved in the image of their packaging forbearers.
And it’s not just fish. Other marine creatures like crustaceans have evolved into plastic versions of their former selves.
The Artist Explains
Wow, I thought. Another human has the same idea as I do, that “if we keep filling up our oceans with plastic, [fake plastic fish] could be the only kind we have left….” and has realized it beautifully it in a tangible way. It’s the theme of this blog. How could I not contact the guy and find out more about it? So that’s what I did.
David Edgar and I had a long and thought-provoking conversation about art and materials and consumerism. And he told me more about the evolution of the Plastiquarium species, explaining that pollutants in the plastic containers (mostly laundry detergent bottles) are triggering new forms of life that mimic the packaging that spreads the pollutants in the first place. Just as we carry the memory of our forefathers, they carry the memory of the products that triggered their strange mutations.
Right now, we are taking an ancient liquid — oil — which has lain beneath the surface of the earth for eons, and brought it to the surface, where we are creating a whole new layer for geologists to find millions of years into the future. What will they think of our civilization, if in fact they are even around to discover it? Will they call it the Plastizoic Era?
Source of the Materials
Back the the realm of practicality and craft, Dave explained how he collects his materials. With full support of the local recycling center, he takes walks through the neighborhood dragging behind him a 4-foot length of cord, to which he attaches all the colorful detergent bottles he finds in residents’ recycle bins. The shapes of these HDPE (#2 plastic) bottles are what inspired him in the first place, suggesting to his artist’s mind creatures from the sea.
Back in his studio, he uses various techniques to transform the objects into the creatures he imagines. Originally, David would remove the labels from the bottles. But eventually, he realized that the labels were a further layer of comment on our consumer-oriented society.
Part of David’s technique is melting the plastic to create new forms. He is concerned about chemicals that can be released, so he works in a well-ventilated area and is very careful not to allow the plastic to burn. He says the worst part of the work, actually, is breathing the synthetic fragrances from the leftover product. He has to work with some diligence to get the smell out — the smell, by the way, that a Procter & Gamble rep told me consumers want even more of. Personally, the more I get that stuff out of my life, the more sensitive I am to it, so I can appreciate what David goes through to realize his creations. And perhaps the discomfort and exposure to the toxicity of his materials is part of his own process. He didn’t say that, but I wonder…
Fantastic Recycled Plastic
David and his wife Robin have put together a beautiful art/craft book, titled Fantastic Recycled Plastic: 30 Clever Creations to Spark Your Imagination,based on not only the Plastiquarium but other plastic creations like birds, insects, and flowers, as well as the work of other artists in the recycled plastic medium. What’s more, the beginning sections of the book explain the history of plastic as well as problems with plastic recycling and environmental issues. In fact, there is a whole page about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Other sections of the book explain materials and tools used to create the art and give instructions for some of the techniques themselves. The book would be a great resource for teachers, I think, providing information about the issues of plastic as well as ideas for art projects. So I’ll pass along my copy to a Fake Plastic Fish reader who will use it to continue the message.
04/18/2009 Update: The winner of the Fantastic Recycled Plastic book is amanda k. Congratulations!
Please leave a comment below and let me know about creative and inspiring ways you have found to teach kids not only about plastic pollution, but also the ways in which companies fool us into believing we need their products to be happy. After all, as David says in his book,
This work is a social commentary on what Consumer culture is doing to our ecology.
I’ll choose a winner at random next week.
Disclosure: Lark Books supplied the book offered in this giveaway. But I’m shipping it to you myself. Aren’t I nice? Also, if you use the Barnes & Noble link in this post (above) to buy Fantastic Recycled Plastic, Fake Plastic Fish earns a small commission. But try to borrow, find it used, or buy it locally from an independent book seller before going the online route. For an explanation, read my full advertising/review policy here.