Plastic Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Carmen O’Grady | Art Teacher

A group of 36 Visual Arts and Creative Industries students walked down to Warwick’s CBD to visit the local art gallery last Wednesday, 29 May.

On display was an exhibition by the artist Mary Elizabeth Barron who created an installation work completely out of recycled materials. Barron quizzed the students asking them to name a few examples of packaging used. Most answered plastic bags, but little did they realise how plastic packaging had become a part of our everyday routine.

Barron took them through her installation work, which portrayed a natural landscape; only it was made solely out of plastic materials. The students learnt about the practicalities of installing an artwork like this, about how each piece had to be ‘flat pack’ designed for transport, how branches of large trees could be slotted together, to the little hidden vials filled with sand to help keep top-heavy pieces stand on their own. Students learnt about the mechanics behind setting up an installation within a gallery space, positioning lights, making sure a variety of height and depth is created, through to the safety considerations of ensuring hanging and freestanding pieces were sturdy and were carefully positioned out of walkways.

Students watched a video on how Barron created each of the pieces within the landscape and how it was set up; they were astonished at the hours the artist had put not only into creating the work but documenting plan sketches to install the work and taking photographs of the piece for exhibition proposal and funding purposes. They found out how an artist makes money from an unconventional work that cannot be sold and then they finally got to do what they had been waiting for all day – they were then given a chance to create their own plastic pieces out of recycled plastic.

Barron gave the students demonstrations on various weaving techniques, and they were then set free to create whatever they imagined.

The students arrived back at school with plenty of food for thought around environmental issues, the importance of recycling and an awareness of just how much plastic they use in their everyday lives because after all, plastic doesn’t grow on trees.