The Liquid Mountain The internationally travelling exhibition, Out to Sea — The Garbage Project, was on view in December and February in the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen. Curated by Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich (CH), the exhibition explores plastic’s hazardous effect on our environment.Participating artists: Muge Yilmaz, Karin van Dam, Anna Bak, Paul Beumer
co-curator Heske ten Cate
Plastic is a synthetic material, known also as thermoplastic. Synthetic materials are made from chemicals through non-natural processes. Not only is it cheap in both production and use, it is an immensely transformable material that can take on endless characteristics. Can we conceive of a world without plastic? That thin layer of cellophane peeled away from a slice of cheese, the tape that seals the lip to your envelope, your mud splattered rain boots, the CD, your water bottle? It’s every bit as real as wood, as water, and as metal.
There are pros and cons to the invention of plastic. However, it’s how we use plastic that determines whether or not plastic has a negative effect on the environment. Too often plastic is the undisputed option, and little time is spent exploring alternatives or asking whether or not plastic is the right choice for a product. Although the charge on carrier bags has helped reduce the excessive use of plastic, one wonders how significant this impact really is.
The fact is, the world is becoming increasingly synthetic.
At the entrance to the nature reserve, we spoke into a branch that appeared to grow out of the side of a tree. And so our arrival was approved, and we were free to set up camp on site. Of course, the forest at the Veluwe is a far cry from ancient woodland, instead these woods have been created by human hands. We cultivate fish, clone trees and fruit. According to some visionaries, the future will bring us vegetable gardens stacked like high rise flats.
It seems as though the world has transformed into a giant laboratory, contained and controlled by man, in which nature is being created anew. As our surroundings become more and more unnatural, we are hardly able to perceive them as artificial. But nature is further away than we can imagine, and the artificial world is an inescapable fact.Man improves nature through the magic of chemical processes. Believing that nature can be augmented has unforeseen consequences, ushering in a shadowy flipside to the wealth of knowledge and resources that science has brought us.
The University of Wageningen is hard at work to find a non-petrochemical earth-friendly plastic by researching the relationship between the structure of polymers and the structure of plastic. One of these new “plastics” is derived from prawn shells and potatoes. Still, it remains uncertain if bioplastic can offer a truly substantial and sustainable alternative to petrochemical plastic.
Can science find a solution for one of its own creations run amok? It’s highly unlikely that the creators of plastic could have ever foreseen their invention floating the oceans as a silent serial killer of sea life.
Artists are experts at asking questions and thinking against the grain. By doing so, they are able to oppose the unbridled faith in science’s ability to solve the problems that we find ourselves confronted with today. Being traditionally more connected to nature and her hidden powers, artists offer us a vision of nature to expand our own thinking. They isolate certain elements that stimulate us to be more conscious of our environment. Through this, they reflect on how ideas of the Romantic and its desire for authenticity and nature’s purity can be relevant today.
Just as man trusts his brain to function as a rational organ, our faith in science is endless.
Artists have the capacity to view world problems with more freedom and less constraints, and to candidly reflect on our zeitgeist without endlessly speculating on apocalyptic scenarios, and without promise after promise of a new and improved world. In this setting, artists will build their own laboratories as a metaphor for the scientific invention, where their experiments will land at vastly different outcomes: sometimes the very personal, at times the totally absurd and poetic. As well as to draw our attention towards conserving our earth, the artist attempts to reject one-sided thinking in a plea for us to become fully rounded individuals.
With these ideas in mind, we showed Simon Starling’s film, Autoxylopyrocycloboros, as a starting point.
We see the artist sailing over the sea. Wood is taken from the hull of his ship and is converted to energy used to to drive the vessel forward, becoming a metaphor for our own status quo: if we carry on treating the earth this way for another thirty years, it will have sunk, imploded, or exploded. Who knows.
About Starling: ‘His practice reveals a deep interest in design, that the artists uses to analyze the histories and consequences of globalized systems of production, consumption and transport of objects.’
The world is become more and more artificial, that’s a fact. But despite everything, this artificial organism continues to breathe like a giant lung, and carries on living.
As a reflection on this inevitably artificial world, curators Hanne Hagenaars and Heske ten Cate have invited four artists to reflect on the status of our environment.
By inviting the four artists and through intense conversations, the curators intend to transform the spaces of the Valkhof into the source of where it all began: the laboratory. Experimentation takes the lead within the exhibition, to offer a place for the birth of new material, a place where alternatives are explored. It will visualise the space of both thought and origin.
Opening 9 December 2016