Death by Plastic (Venice)
On November 7, 2019, my body rested in a casket made of transparent Plexiglas filled with fishing nets and single use plastics. A gondola carried the casket, silently across the canals of Venice, drawing attention to major causes of plastic pollution locally and globally.
In the summer of 2019, I performed “Death by Plastic” in Moab, Utah, a small community seasonally infiltrated by tourists who come to explore the extraordinary pristine landscapes but leave behind large quantities of refuse the local municipality needs to manage. I have been creating art in the area for nearly two decades and have observed the community become incrementally more sustainable. When I arrived in Moab this year, I discovered that only plastics #1 and #2 are being recycled, everything else is landfilled. I felt like I had been hit by lightning and thought I would drop dead there, at the recycling center. After a sleepless night, I decided to build a clear casket to lay in covered by plastics 3,4,5,6 and 7, which can no longer be recycled. The work was photographed on the local landfill, where the plastics would eventually end up.
Venice is facing similar issues but on a grander scale. Thousands of tourists invade the city daily, leaving behind tons of waste, much of which is single-use plastic bottles (even though Venice has amazing tap water, and nearly every square has a fountain where you can re-fill bottles or drink from the faucet). Part of the problem is that as consumers we have become incredibly lazy. The larger issue, however, is that corporations keep producing and wrapping products in plastics which are often not recyclable. The responsibility to solve this dilemma lies not only on the consumers but expressly on the corporations producing these products. To solve this problem, we need to make a significant paradigm shift and be willing to change our habits - as consumers, as product and packaging designers, and as corporations.
Plastic is undeniably a valuable material, prolonging the lifespan of people and perishables. It is a democratic compound as it is highly reproducible, non-permeable, lightweight, and low-cost. But it is also one of the leading causes of pollution on the planet. My ongoing environmental concerns have led me to research the impact of plastics in hopes of finding solutions and alternatives to its affects. The result of this inquiry is “Death by Plastic,” my new series of projects.
This project aims to draw attention to the avalanche of single use plastics, comprising or covering most of the products we use daily: electronics, housecleaning products, office supplies, produce, personal care items…and everything else. After completing their brief task of containing/protecting/wrapping, many of these plastics are collected for “recycling” but end up in landfills or oceans since local facilities cannot process them and because certain types of plastics are no longer profitable to recycle.
For years, many countries were sending their plastics to China where some types were being recycled and made into new products, while the less desirable ones were being landfilled. China’s recent refusal to accept these materials is a wakeup call for countries faced with not only a glut of plastic but also a lack of infrastructure to process them. People worldwide are feeling outraged and betrayed by the fact that, after years of carefully rinsing and sorting our plastics, we discover that recycling is almost a myth.
This project is the result of the collaborative efforts and enthusiasm of Sara Michieletto, Bianca Nardon and Elisabetta Zavoli.