Much of our planet is choking on plastic. Images of swaths of plastic debris crowding the oceans; birds starved with bellies full of bottle caps; massifs of discarded containers climbing to the sky — it is enough to make one recoil from the truth of the impact our so-called innovation has had on our fellow creatures, on beloved landscapes and on ourselves.
Clearly, hiding will not reverse the course of our human folly. To change our ways while there is still time, we need to look squarely at the activities, appetites and lack of accountability which are leading us into an unsustainable future. But beyond our wish for a livable world, where is the incentive to address the question? How can the subject be broached in palatable ways?
“Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials,” on view through late July at the Smith College Museum of Art, chronicles the interaction of plastics with our environment and our lives as motivation and historical record. Representing the work of 30 international artists, the collection and its related events demonstrate the
artistic application of plastics in a far-reaching, comprehensive assemblage that is at once informative and aesthetically captivating.
Originating from the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State University, “Plastic Entanglements” traveled to the University of Oregon before arriving at Smith College. Emma Chubb, the Charlotte Feng Ford ‘83 curator of contemporary art at Smith College Museum of Art, shared an overview. “In the last half-century, plastic has become ubiquitous. From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the microplastics that move through our food chain and into our bodies, plastic impacts all of us in ways that are at once immense and intimate. “Plastic Entanglements” invites us to rethink our relationship to plastic. Taken together, the artworks in the exhibition do more than confirm what those on the front lines of plastic pollution have long known,” she added. “In three-dimensional form, the artworks ask: what is the aesthetic, material and social potential of plastic? How does plastic harm all who make a home on this planet? Where do we go from here?”
Sculptor Aurora Robson’s work, “Ona,” 2014, constructed of plastic debris (PET + HDPE), aluminum rivets, tinted polycrylic and mica powder, stands as an emblematic yet paradoxically ephemeral testament to the versatility and whimsy of residual plastics. Through immaculately conceived structural choices, Robson is able to convey aesthetic transcendence of the media through the use of discreet tones, delicate filigree and soft translucence. Robson’s work carries a lightness of being and crafted precision which reveal consecutive layers of detail and hidden content, inviting an ever-closer view.