Category Archives: plastic art

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Cyril Williams’ “Imagining the Gardens of Waste” at Figment Toronto

When I ran my workshops at OCAD University in January, it was my hope to show how a community of practice could be formed around eco-arts and environmental literacy could be encouraged through the act of making. One of the artists who attended my first workshop was Cyril (Cy) Williams. I met Cy in 2014 when he brought his Imaginary Dragon to FIGMENT Toronto, a free participatory weekend art event on Olympic Island that I curate. Cy’s dragon was built over two days by his team of volunteers and some members of the public and was such a huge success that he re-staged it at Nuit Blanch in October. It was a piece that excited me because it was made from broken camping gear and obsolete junk.

Cy Williams and his team building the Imaginary Dragon at Figment Toronto, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Cyril Williams.

Cy Williams and his team building the Imaginary Dragon at Figment Toronto, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Cyril Williams.

The Imaginary Dragon at Figment Toronto, 2014. Image courtesy of Cyril Williams

The Imaginary Dragon at Figment Toronto, 2014. Photograph courtesy of Cyril Williams

Cy at my Polymers in Action workshop on January 14th, 2015. Photograph courtesy of Nathan Piquette-Miller

Cy at my Polymers in Action workshop on January 14th, 2015. Photograph courtesy of Nathan Piquette-Miller

This year, Cy surprised me in the most wonderful way. When we started talking about his installation for this year’s Figment event, I became instantly excited. Cy told me that he had been so inspired by my workshops that he wanted to run his own at Figment, creating a secret garden on the island using waste plastic. He mentioned that the piece would be lit up at night and that’s when it would really come alive. I trusted his vision and accepted his proposal on the spot. However, no conversation could have prepared me for the magic space he created. After the circus event and fire spinning, I took a walk to see what he had done and was so delighted and enchanted with the results.

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

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Image credit: Andrew Miller

That Cy took inspiration from the research I was doing into the power of making and collaborative eco-stewardship is exactly what I had hoped to achieve with my work. In September, I will be travelling to Plymouth (UK) to present my research at the Making Futures Conference. It makes me very happy to be able to add this to my presentation and I hope that future posts will reflect a growing community of eco-artists and environmental stewards.

To view Cy’s images from the weekend of art-making, check out his Facebook page images here.

A HUGE thank you to Andrew Miller – Awesome Photography for the night-time images of Cy’s installation. Check out Andrew’s incredible photographs on his Facebook page here.

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Ethical & Environmental Considerations of Turning Recycled Plastic into Clothing

The other day I found myself having a very interesting conversation with a stranger about the ethical considerations of removing plastic from the oceans. He seemed to be under the impression that if the plastic floating in the oceans was removed, then small colonies of fish and other sea life that live in them would be jeopardized. (I was imagining an anthropomorphic Sharky and George style metropolis of threatened creatures, fighting to save their rubbish heap homes). Okay, so it’s unethical to remove plastic from the ocean because humanity cannot help meddling in the balance of life, even when it’s an effort to restore an unbalanced system? I don’t buy it, but I didn’t tell him so.

I did show interest in the radio show that he and others had told me to keep my ears open for. The CBC did a piece in their the Current show on Friday about new projects involving big brands using discarded plastics, collected from various sources, to make textiles. It’s worth listening to, to gain a perspective on the kinds of questions that are raised by this kind of practice. The issue of micro plastics, for example. Recycling bottles etc into clothing does not eliminate this problem and could even exacerbate it, because washing the clothing would indeed still make the material deteriorate and micro plastics would still find their way into waterways and then the ocean. Food for thought. So, new filters for washing machines need to be made to counter this problem… Okay. More stuff. Does more stuff solve the problem of the stuff we already have? Also a point raised. I’m by no means writing off this idea. I think it’s great that these issues are getting some big name support. But I am still skeptical.

Aren’t there more ethical considerations here? What about the use of cheap labour used to manufacture what end up being surplus clothing for us “ethically and environmentally conscious” consumers? I didn’t hear any mention of addressing these very serious concerns. The notion of designing a “closed loop” system of material use seems hollow without this component. Sure, home industry eco-arts and design practices inherently operate this way, but they get little exposure and have small customer bases. Maybe it’s just me, but I struggle with my own place in the spectrum of ethical consumer and environmental activism. My work aims to educate and encourage individuals to reconnect to the environment via material manipulation. Other projects highlight the scope of the problem through visual representation and art-making (more posts on these to come). These are not a closed-loop systems either. It’s my opinion, that if big brands and multinational clothing companies are going to undertake ethical practices, under the very public eye, then maybe a holistic approach to labour AND the environment is what’s needed? Just a thought.

To listen to the CBC segment click here.

Cat Toy by Nudge

PiA Second Workshop, January 17th 2015

The second instalment of my thesis project, Polymers in Action: Socially Engaged Art and the Environment, took place a few short days after the first one. The group that attended was another healthy mix of OCAD U students and concerned citizens, most of whom I know personally through my work with Figment Toronto. This mixture provided the kind of environment I was hoping for (and DID achieve with both sessions)—one of congenial art making and discussion—and the artwork produced was just as fun and funky as the first event.

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Sci-Fi City by Emily Smith

Sci-Fi City by Emily Smith

Critique on War Machines and Consumer Culture by Matt Kyba

Critique on War Machines and Consumer Culture by Matt Kyba

Sacred(ish) Heart by Farklin

Sacred(ish) Heart by Farklin

Twisty arrangement by Fee Gunn

Twisty arrangement by Fee Gunn

Fascinator by Roberta Buiani

Fascinator by Roberta Buiani

Cat Toy by Nudge

Cat Toy by Nudge

Hat by Kim Brilliant

Hat by Kim Brilliant

While these events were fun for everyone involved, they were also critical in nature. The discussions that took place revealed common concerns for the way plastics are viewed and what we think happens to them after we place them in a blue bin. Similarly, few people know that Ontario ships its plastic recycling to China to be processed, only for it to return in the form of new plastic toys or other frivolous items. Why this unnecessary cost for transportation when a local initiative would be more effective? Another point that came up was so called “biodegradable plastic”. This is a massive misnomer. Plastic does not biodegrade, end of story. What is commonly called biodegradable plastic is a polymer/cellulose mix, which means that the cellulose biodegrades, but the polymer strands do not. I will write more about these critical points in future posts.

For now, I’d like to say another huge thank-you to everyone who took part in this initial run of Polymers in Action workshops, especially Rosemary Donegan, my thesis supervisor and photographer for the second workshop. Without you all this would not have been the success that it is.