Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Plastic bags

From the beginning of this month (01/03/20), New York became the eighth state in America to impose a single-use plastic bag ban. Many countries have already phased out the ‘disposable’ plastic bag including Bangladesh, the first to do so in 2002. In the UK, a 5p plastic bag fee was first introduced in 2015 with much debate ever since over the number of bags that have been removed from circulation.

But, plastic bags were never meant to be a single-use product. Invented by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin, in 1959 he developed a method of creating a simple one-piece bag from a sheet of polyethylene. Cheap to produce, durable and strong, Thulin intended this to be a replacement for paper bags and mass deforestation; he envisioned this bag as something to be valued and re-used.

It made me start to think about the ways that people have used plastic bags in their creative output, eg. valuing the material in repurposing an everyday object or using it to communicate a message.

This giant teardrop sculpture by African artist Pascale Marthine Tayou was on display at the Armory Show in New York City last year. Entitled ‘Plastic Bags 2001-2010’ the work was originally created in 2011 as part of an exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Australia. Tayou compared the plastic bags to people, describing them as both ‘useful and dangerous’ as a comment on global consumerism.

Another plastic bag sculpture was created in 2012, by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. 40,000 plastic bags were used to create two huge slugs that stood on the streets of Angers, France as part of the Accroche-coeurs Festival. Volunteers first knotted the bags onto plastic netting which was then attached to a metal framework. Measuring 18 metres in length and standing 7.5 metres tall, the ‘Slow Slugs’ were on show for 3 days, appearing to move as the bags caught the wind. Hofman declared that they were ascending the steep steps of the city heading towards a church, signifying their slow crawl towards death.

In 2012, the Gewerbemuseum in Switzerland curated an exhibition entitled ‘Oh Plastiksack!’ including objects, paintings, photographs and performance pieces from 30 international artists and designers, exploring and celebrating the plastic bag. The installation ‘Plastic Garbage Guarding the Museum’ by Madrid-based design collective Luzinterruptus, seen in the image below, was on display at the front of the museum to entice visitors inside, who could then exchange a used plastic bag for free admission.

Martinican artist Jean-François Boclé’s installation ‘Tout doit disparaître!/Everything must go, 2004’ used 97,000 blue supermarket plastic bags to form a memorial to the lives lost at sea during the transatlantic slave trade. The inflated bags were put on show at the Saatchi Gallery in 2014.

Here, in the MoDiP collections, you can find two amazing objects made using plastic bags. The first is a tote made by designer Kate Ward in 2009, created by crocheting long strips of carrier bags together.

The second is the 21st century ruff, made by artist Laura Anne Marsden from plastic bags worked in the 'Eternal lace' technique, combining hand-stitching and needle-lace making with various heat processes to change the properties and appearance of the plastic bags.

We also have a large number of individual plastic carrier bags as well as photographs showing the bags in early use. All of these objects form an important part of the museum’s contemporary collections that reflect the recent past but which will be unobtainable in the future.

Katherine Pell 
Collections Officer


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  2. Thanks for sharing this amazing article with us.

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