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2018-02-01 / Shorts

The Shape of Plastic

Maggie Anderson

"Institute for invertebrate marine biology" by Mark Dion, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery"Institute for invertebrate marine biology" by Mark Dion, Courtesy of the artist and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery


The Plastic Entanglements exhibit opening this month at The Palmer Museum of Art is huge. It comprises 60 works by more than 30 artists, takes up the main exhibit gallery and spills into a neighboring one, is accompanied by a sculpture exhibit this summer at The Arboretum at Penn State and will travel to three other universities through 2020.

That expansiveness echoes plastic’s presence on our planet, which is where Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor found inspiration for the project.

"Wavelengths" by Steve McPherson, Courtesy of Victori + Mo Gallery"Wavelengths" by Steve McPherson, Courtesy of Victori + Mo Gallery“In 2009 I started getting involved in an NGO that was trying to create an anti-plastic movement called the Plastic Pollution Coalition,” she says. “In the course of that, I got more interested in the issue and the scale of the problem, which is global.” But a byproduct of her participation was meeting artists involved with the coalition, and they were all around the world, too.

“I was finding more and more art and thinking how cool some of it was, but also I was interested in the way the art was trying to communicate, in part, the science of this particular ecological problem.”

Three years later, that spark has resulted in Plastic Entanglements, which Wagner-Lawlor curated with Joyce Robinson and Heather Davis. It’s a three-part show, starting with The Archive, which looks to the past; continuing with The Entangled Present, which explores humans, nature and plastic interacting today; and concludes with Speculative Futures, which asks where a world that includes plastic is going.

“It’s similar to when we did the Marcellus Shale show a few years ago,” says Robinson, “where we were really trying not to come at it solely from the critique side. Certainly the environmental impact is a major part of this show, but we also have artists like Jessica Stockholder who jus“Priest with Eagle” by Morehshin Allahyari, Courtesy of the artist and Upfor Gallery“Priest with Eagle” by Morehshin Allahyari, Courtesy of the artist and Upfor Galleryt loves working with plastic.”

Some artists do have statements to make, like Morehshin Allahyari. “She is hugely important right now,” says Robinson. “She’s an Iranian-born artist now based in Brooklyn who is 3D printing works that are being destroyed by ISIS.”

Conceptual artist Mark Dion created a piece just for this exhibition. “He’s a major figure,” says Robinson, “and is known for these cabinets of curiosity that critique institutional power and look at collecting practices and the confines of knowledge.”

The show opens Feb. 13 and kicks off with a campus-wide party on Feb. 15 from 7-9 p.m. palmermuseum.psu.edu


Waste Space

In addition to her pieces on display at the Palmer, Aurora Robson is creating a unique installation for The Arboretum at Penn State, funded in part through a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

“Aurora will be making pieces out of Penn State’s industrial waste barrels,” says Robinson. “The blue

ones carry antifreeze that’s used to winterize Beaver Stadium, and the white ones hold saline solution. What’s so cool about Penn State waste management is that they dutifully save, label, organize and categorize all of the industrial plastic waste.”

Robinson and Shari Edelson, director of horticulture and curator at the Arboretum, delivered the barrels to Robson in upstate New York. All that plastic will make its way back to campus, in an entirely different form, for the sculpture exhibit, which opens June 1.


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