STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go? April 11, 2012

Here you can see some of the 10,000 plastic bottles and a bit of the "cloud" of straws and plastic "to-go" lids being installed to the left

Big detail of "STUFF" featuring a bunch of the main crew from the Catherine J. Smith gallery


In the United States we buy stuff all of the time, and are very often not responsible for where it goes when we are finished with it.  I look in trash cans all of the time.  In a way, as an environmental artist, I consider it my job.  This is what I know, just by looking–I see lots of aluminum cans and plastic bottles, tossed rather than recycled–all of the time.

I spoke with a woman from Texas today.  She is a curator in a museum in Odessa Texas where she says prairie dogs are her neighbors.  She told me that they have a big problem with plastic bags polluting the environment.  Apparently they get stuck all over the tumbleweeds.  This must be very unsightly, not to mention bad for these airborne plants.

"Bamboo Forest" made out old chop sticks, and green PETE bottles. The floor is covered in to-go brown coffee lids, corks and caps.

Yesterday, while pumping gas, I chased but did not catch a yellow Walmart bag as the wind yanked it into the air and then threw it into the middle of a busy intersection.  With
lots of cars rushing past I gave up my mission and stood and watched it as it twisted and turned down the road, on a journey to the ocean, perhaps getting stuck for a while in a tree or maybe even a tumbleweed along the way.

Leaf made of green and clear plastic PETE bottles

For the past two weeks I have had the good fortune to have been an artist-in-residence at Appalachain State University, at the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, installing my show STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?  I worked with Ben Wesemen and his intrepid cadre of students from the Catherine J. Smith Gallery and the staff at the Turchin Center as well.  By the time my residency was over we had worked with over 200 staff and students installing 10,000 PETE plastic bottles in the windows and making a comet full of bottle caps and beach plastic and a bamboo forest of chopsticks and Mountain Dew bottles.  It was an amazing and humbling experience.  Recycling coordinator, Jen Maxwell, “guesstimates” that around 10,000 plastic bottles are recycled each week at the University.  Helping to clean and then stack 10,000 bottles made me realize in a visceral way, how much plastic that is.

Here is my statement for the show:

I saw it on 60 minutes tonight so I know it must be true.  Our oceans are filling with bits and pieces of plastic.  The plastic comes from us, via our rivers, our streams, the wind and roadways.  It is going there all the time and the fish and birds are eating it. Plastic is polluting the waters of our oceans in big ways. The next time you see a plastic bag caught in a tree or a gutter full of plastic bottles, straws and lids, you might ask yourself, now where is this stuff going?

Captain Moore of Algalita Research Foundation, who has been traveling and documenting all of the plastic flowing into our oceans says source reduction is the only answer. 

I have been documenting the “stuff” of our lives for over 20 years.  The things we use once and throw-away.  What I say is this–what all of us do every day really matters.  Recycling counts.  So does remembering to bring your own bag to the store and saying no to single-use plastic when you do not need it.

My job as an artist is to transform the materials I find around me. “STUFF: Where does it come from and where does it go?” here at the Turchin Center has been my biggest opportunity yet.  Thank you all for helping in collecting, installing and most importantly, looking, seeing and asking your own questions.  The world belongs to all of us.

All the time.

Street view--Mandala--caps and lids, cans and bottles, beach plastic. Windows are full of plastic bottles

 

Meanwhile, a blackbird watches over us all.

3 Comments
Amy Kellum April 12th, 2012

Wonderful, Bryant! I will be there tomorrow with my sister. I can’t wait for her to see your work. The bottles in the windows are brilliant.

Thank you for making us aware. Awareness is the first step toward change.

Mary Docherty April 12th, 2012

Wonderful! wonderful! We’ve been recycled art fans for years!! Wish we could see it in person!

Stacey Kirby April 20th, 2012

Fantastic installation, Bryant!! What a wonderful piece. Wish I could see it in person!

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