I'm currently creating a series of photographs and videos exploring single-use packaging culture.
So many of the things we buy every day come packaged in layers of plastic, paper, styrofoam; all to be instantly discarded once we get it home. What we don’t often consider is the effect this has on our environment. A plastic water bottle, or a plastic container for example, has already gone through an elaborate process before reaching the shop; oil is extracted from the ground, shipped to a refinery, turned into plastic, shaped and then trucked to the store. This process - as well as the process of recycling that ideally should follow - is energy, water and carbon dioxide intensive, and takes many months to complete. Not to mention that 80% of water bottles don’t get recycled at all, but rather end up in landfill; by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.
Despite all this, there’s is a widespread association of single use packaging to concepts of ‘ease’ and ‘convenience’. We feel there is no other easy option, the alternatives are often seen to be unthinkable, and even laughable. But not so long ago, the things we now find bizarre (like taking your own containers to the shop to fill them up, using bees wax sheets rather than gladwrap, etc) were actions people engaged with everyday.
I am fascinated by the idea that even though single use plastic is quickly discarded to landfill, it has somehow maintained a reputation for luxury. So much produce labeled “organic” in supermarkets is entirely packaged in polystyrene and plastic. Even items and foods that are naturally robust, or come with their own sturdy protective layer like onions, potatoes, coconuts, come increasingly packaged in plastic and polystyrene.
I want to play with this concept of ‘luxury’ by creating beautiful images that belie the rotten and dangerous past - and future - of these easily discarded items. To do this, I am drawing on 17th Century Dutch still life paintings as a visual framework - their beauty, their composition, colour and elegance.
In reading Julie Berger Hochstrasser's 'Still Life and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age' I have also found some surprising links between my project and this famous period of still life painting. In the 17th century, Dutch still lifes often depicted food and spices from far away countries in elaborate and luscious compositions; overflowing with riches from the many continents that the Dutch were traveling to. And in depicting these items so beautifully, art became a way of advertising the wealth and power of the Dutch nation. As it did so, food and items that were sourced unethically through slave labour, child labour and colonisation, became accepted and profitable - despite their harmful and despicable origins.
Similarly today, there is a disconnect between how we consume and *what* we consume. We don’t know very much about what kind of toll on the environment our little plastic fork or bag is exacting. We don’t often stop to question where it comes from or under what conditions the product is made or grown, and what conditions the labourers are required to work in.
Some snaps on my phone from the process: