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Artists view plastics and waste

Varsha Nair reports on an international exhibition in which artists present their perspectives on plastic and other waste products underlying the issue of the human contribution, and its responsibility, to environmental deterioration.

Bangkok, Thailand, was the host of an unusual art event during April 1998 when the exhibition Plastic (& Other) Waste opened. As the title suggests, the exhibition dealt with the issue of waste and its influence and long-term effect on society. The event featured painting, sculpture, installation, video and performance works by more than 60 artists from 13 countries, mainly from the Asia-Pacific region.

The international project was first proposed by Indonesian artist Arahmaiani who founded the network, Asia-Pacific Artist Solidarity (A-PAS) group, in 1996 at the second Asia-Pacific Triennial held in Brisbane, Australia. The network was intended to bring together and encourage communication between artists from diverse backgrounds.

With particular emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, A-PAS supports and facilitates the exchange of ideas and art, opening opportunities where it can for artists to participate in and initiate art projects. The network also provides opportunities for artists to communicate personally so as to encourage exploration of wider horizons.

“Plastic (& Other) Waste” is the first major project of the Asia-Pacific Artist Solidarity network. The choice of waste as the theme was made primarily on the considerations of the urgency of dealing with the problem of environmental pollution. A conspicuous symbol of the modern, throwaway culture, plastic has infiltrated almost every corner of modern life. The manufacturing and recycling of plastic, a non-biodegradable substance, is a major source of dioxins and embodies a potent and readily available form of hazardous waste.

The creative energy of our societies seems to be focused mainly on indiscriminate consumption and material gain. This shallow quest impinges on all walks of life and encourages people to engineer a dehumanized environment. It is necessary, therefore, to offer alternatives for creative energies towards things that are more positive and beneficial to all.

In this exhibition, artists in their various ways of simply looking at common objects address the issue of waste, plastic and other, and in turn examine the implications in a broader sense.

Nitaya Ueeraworakul working on her sculpture “Wings of Desire.”

Thai artist Nitaya Ueeraworakul’s sculpture, titled “Wings of Desire,” made from chicken-wire mesh and plastic shopping bags, addresses the consumerist nature of a modern day family unit.

“Staying Alive V: Why is this the behaviour of rational man?” by Janis Sommerville.

In “Staying Alive V: Why is this the behaviour of rational man?,” Janis Somerville from Australia works with a plastic mineral water bottle which was found wedged between two stones at Tout Quarry, Isle of Portland, in Dorset in the United Kingdom. She traces the history of the limestone deposits, first used by Stone Age Man, later by the Romans, and in more recent times, where Portland Stone was used to build monuments throughout the British Empire. “Nature has now reclaimed this tired place but human beings cannot help themselves. They continue to leave signs of their need to dominate and abuse nature. Why is this the behaviour of rational man?.”

“Flowers” by Vu Dan Tan.

Vietnamese artist Vu Dan Tan’s work, titled “Flowers,” contemplates on the paradox of putting water, one of the most natural substances in the world, in a plastic bottle. He uses the bottle itself to form whimsical flowers.

“Asia Delight” by Mella Jaarsma.

Mella Jaarsma, from Indonesia, in her installation “Asia Delight” uses common kitchen plastic ware which imitates what was traditionally made from natural materials, and combines them with dishcloths. The cloth is printed with the image of a charred monkey, burnt by the forest fires in Kalimantan.

The practice of individual creative work is widespread in contemporary art. But the practice of collective creative work, in which the individual is given space to have a personal point of view, is less common. In the case of this project, this form of collective creative work has gone into the physical realization. That is, through bringing together a large number of artists from different countries to work on a theme and where the project itself is initiated and managed by some of the participants.

“Plastic (& Other) Waste” was held at the Art Resources Centre of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, from the 7th of April to the 1st of May 1998.

Further information

Varsha Nair, 9th Floor, PWT Mansion, 173/6 Sukhumvit 16, Bangkok 10110, Thailand. Fax: 66-2-2602642. Email:

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