“Simultaneously stunning and filthy” is how director Pascal Schelbli describes his 2019 short film “The Beauty.” A cautionary reimagining of the world’s rampant plastic pollution, the arresting animation reenvisions waste as lively sea life: a bubble-wrap fish puffs up, a serpentine tire glides through the water, and an entire school of discarded footwear swims in an undulating mass.
As it plumbs the vast expanse of the littered ocean, “The Beauty” magnifies the enduring nature of waste and lays bare the insidious effects of microplastics as they enter the food chain and impact the overall health of the ecosystem. In a statement, Schelbli describes the motivation behind the film, which won a Student Academy Award in 2020:
Instead of showing another mournful stomach full of plastic bags, I thought, ‘what if plastic could be integrated into the sea life and nature solves the problem?’ The film should take you on a journey, where all our feelings of guilt will disappear. But in the end, we wake up and realize that we need to change something.
To see more of the Zürich-based director’s poignant animations, check out his Vimeo and Instagram, and watch a recent Last Week Tonight segment that dives further into the crisis and explains how recycling isn’t the best solution.
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Two Imposing Cubes Covered in Yellow Plastic by Artist Serge Attukwei Clottey Respond to Global Water Insecurity
A mottled patchwork of plastic cloaks two cubes that tower over the desert landscape of Coachella Valley. Titled “The Wishing Well,” the bright pair are the work of Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey, who created the nine-foot pieces from scraps of Kufuor gallons, or jerrycans, in response to shared struggles with water insecurity that ripple across the world. Resembling a yellow brick road, a paved walkway connects the two woven structures that stand in contrast to the surrounding environment, which faces continual struggles with access to the natural resource.
Clottey’s use of the material is tied to a larger critique of colonialism’s enduring legacy and the ways it continues to affect populations around the world, particularly in relation to the climate crisis. Originally, European colonialists brought Kufuor gallons to Ghana to transport cooking oil. Today, the plastic vessels are ubiquitous and used to haul potable water. “As repurposed relics of the colonial project, they serve as a constant reminder of the legacies of empire and of global movements for environmental justice,” says a statement about the work that’s part of Desert X, a biennial bringing site-specific installations to Southern California.
“The Wishing Well” is one facet of Clottey’s larger Afrogallonism project, which he describes as “an artistic concept to explore the relationship between the prevalence of the yellow oil gallons in regards to consumption and necessity in the life of the modern African.” The Accra-based artist works in a variety of mediums spanning installation, sculpture, and performance that deal with the broader influence of colonialism in Africa. You can see a larger collection of his pieces on Artsy and Instagram.
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Collectively, we use a staggering amount of single-use plastic each year—we buy one million plastic bottles each minute around the world—most of which ends up in landfills, oceans, and other natural spaces. Nzambi Matee, a 29-year-old entrepreneur from Nairobi, is combatting this global crisis by recycling bags, containers, and other waste products into bricks used for patios and other construction projects.
Prior to launching her company, Gjenge Makers, Matee worked as a data analyst and oil-industry engineer. After encountering plastic waste along Nairobi’s streets, she decided to quit her job and created a small lab in her mother’s backyard, testing sand and plastic combinations. Matee eventually received a scholarship to study in the materials lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she ultimately developed a prototype for the machine that now produces the textured bricks.
Made from a combination of plastic and sand, the pavers have a melting point higher than 350°C and are more durable than their concrete counterparts. Matee and her team source much of the raw product from factories and recyclers, and sometimes it’s free, which allows the company to reduce the price point on the product and make it affordable for schools and homeowners. So far, Gjenge Makers has recycled more than 20 tons of plastic and created 112 job opportunities in the community.
“It is absurd that we still have this problem of providing decent shelter–a basic human need,” Matee said in a statement. “Plastic is a material that is misused and misunderstood. The potential is enormous, but its afterlife can be disastrous.”
Right now, the company generates between 1,000 and 1,500 bricks per day, and Matee hopes to expand across Africa. You can see more of Gjenge Makers’ production and finished projects on Instagram. (via designboom)
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In “Selfish,” what opens with a benign scene at a sushi restaurant quickly turns into a dire assessment of plastic pollution. Created by Canada-based animator PoChien Chen, the appropriately named film begins by a chef plucking a detergent bottle from a pile of fresh fish, assembling various dishes made entirely of waste material, and subsequently serving them to a horrified trio of aquatic life. It then dives into a disturbing series of facts and figures about the current state of our oceans and the effects of pollution on wildlife.
Chen said in a statement that the critical animation was inspired by a visit to a small island in Taiwan two years ago:
It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a 10 minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs sill lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it were a part of nature.
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Thousands of Plastic Bottles Are Suspended in Green Tendrils in Artist Jean Shin's Latest Installation
In her installation “Floating MAiZE,” artist Jean Shin employs more than 7,000 plastic bottles to create a stunning suspension above an atrium at Brookfield Place. The window-lined space allows light to refract through the translucent tendrils, which are hung in a staggered, circular shape. Layered with sustainable practices, the latest installation reuses the green, plastic bottles from the 2017 project, “MAiZE,” which utilized Mountain Dew that was consumed and collected in Iowa, the nation’s leader in corn production. Living and working in Brooklyn, Shin also sourced some pieces from Sure We Can, a nonprofit recycling center in her neighborhood.
The recycled piece falls at the intersection of environmental consciousness and commentary on food consumption in the United States. “Following the food chain from industrial-scale agricultural practice producing corn in America that ends up being consumed as high fructose corn syrup in soda and other processed foods, served up in plastics that become harmful pollutants in our oceans,” the artist writes on Instagram.
Shin tells Colossal that her works help to expose “the interdependency of their consumer habits to the larger ecosystem,” which she elaborates on by saying:
I use everyday objects and detritus that are often overlooked or obsolete to transform them into large scale installations. The lifecycle and accumulation of these consumer objects have a huge environmental impact. I am interested in where these materials come from, where they end up and who engages with them.
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Montreal-based artist Elisabeth Picard curls, fans, and locks together hundreds of zip-ties into tremendously formed glowing sculptures and undulating installations. The futuristic artworks merge geological and organic elements with science fiction to create abstract formations that the artist likens to “landscapes, minerals, plants, micro-organisms, and sea creatures.”
Picard tells Colossal that since she began working with the nylon links in 2011, she’s used more than 300,000 ties. The artist hand-dyes each piece with pastels, earth tones, and sometimes fluorescent hues that will later glow under UV light and add depth with shadows. Some artworks even are assembled with a lightbox backdrop. Each glowing piece is designed to elucidate the contrast between the original material and the final structures, and numeric art, vector drawing, programming, and 3D printing all guide her research.
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Editor's Picks: Craft
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