Mushrooms June 6, 2013
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― Richard Buckminster Fuller
“Find a problem, not an idea. Then solve the problem.” Burt Swersey, professor, Rensselaer Polytecnic Institute
Since late February my world has been a rapid stream of residencies, workshops, shows, and installations. I have made recycled fish with 1st graders, wild animals with 5th graders and high school students, and a two-story “waterfall” with the help of student volunteers at the Cary Art Center in Cary, NC. I crossed the state delivering my own animal sculptures to Blue Spiral1 in Asheville, NC and Bull City Arts Collaborative in Durham, NC and I worked with Duke University students on an art installation about bio-plastics. I have seen art using plastic and about plastic by other artists dealing with issues similar to my own. If you are in Chapel Hill, NC this summer, be sure to check out Bright Ugochukwu Eke‘s work made out of plastic bottles at the FedEx Global building.
I have been traveling fast and furious in the river which is my life. Two weeks ago I rode over to Raleigh with a bunch of interested citizens to visit the single-stream recycling facility where all of the materials collected from our blue recycling bins are dumped, sorted and processed. Seeing masses of everyday packaging flowing by on conveyor belts as people and machines separated stuff by type was like watching a river of consumption as it swirled and eddied and finally ended up in a bale or a box or as refuse on the floor.
Here are a few images of my work and the work of many of my students, with the final 3 images being of our local recycling facility –with both process and end result in view:
I write this post on a VERY gray and rainy day. Here in NC we are experiencing the results of tropical storm Andrea. The ground is soaked and rivers are filled to capacity, yet it rains on. Whatever we do, wherever we are, we are influenced by the natural world around us. We cannot help it. For some of us, perhaps it is only when the weather gets very wet, or very stormy, or very dry, or very–just VERY anything– that we begin to pay attention. I have been running from job to job this spring, on the road, in schools, art centers and galleries. In the back of my mind, always, I have been watching single-use plastic. Of course, I try not to use it, bring my own bags, say no to straws and that sort of thing. From the beginning of this blog, that has been my job, and it has not changed.
Plastics with polystyrene at the forefront came into common use during World War II and we have not looked back. Surely, no one at that time could have imagined the multitude of uses which would be developed for all sorts of plastics. And just as surely, no one could imagine what making cheap plastic items that we use only once but which last forever would cost us.
Why is this post entitled Mushrooms? If you read Ian Frazier’s article in the May 20, 2013 New Yorker magazine entitled “Form and Fungus: Can Mushrooms help us get rid of Styrofoam?”, then you will see why. In this article the author tells the story of two young men, Gavin MacIntrye and Eben Bayer, who have founded a company called Ecovative Design. They are developing ways to make polymers out of natural, biodegradable materials using mushroom spores. Their products are successful and compostable. Interest is world wide. A TED talk has been given. Maybe finally we can develop a new system to replace single-use-only-down-cyclable–at-best, plastic. Such is my hope. Working harder and faster just keeps us working harder and faster with no time to consider the results of our actions. We are not going to stop using plastic. Maybe we can learn to use natural polymers for a more sustainable world. Wow–What a thought! Read this article. You will be amazed.