Student Art Piece Talks Trash

Art installation by third year fine arts students on Jameson plaza intended to create awareness about proper recycling and mindfulness around personal plastic use.

By Lola-May Dunn (Staff Writer

On Tuesday the 10th of May 2022, the Jameson Plaza was decked out in garlands of plastic waste by students from Michaelis School of Fine Art as an art piece, entitled: “Waste of Space”. While this name may sound like the scathing review of one of the art piece’s worst critics, it is actually a play on the word “waste” and intended to highlight how plastic is a ‘waste of space’ in that the presence of it in our environment and lives is unnecessary.

The Jameson Plaza has long been home to student art displays, so when a huge intestine shaped installation appeared draped over the steps, most students were unphased as they walked past it en route to do other things. However, after following this intestine all the way up, students were met by a large tower-like installation in the middle of the plaza made entirely out of plastic; the array of plastic bags, bottles and packets tied together and hung around a central support was impossible not to notice.

Both installations were designed, imagined and created by groups of third year fine art students at Michaelis School of Fine Art as part of their environmental interventions course which examines the impact of human behaviour on the environment. We spoke to some of the student artists behind the installation of the recyclable waste produced by 15 UCT students over a 2 month period. 

“We’re not just artists, we’re also environmentalists” said Kayla Howie, one of the artists involved, this statement sums up the intention behind the installation which was not created for the aesthetic or even artistic value, but rather to confront students and remind them to consider their day to day plastic use. 

But an artwork made out of plastic waste to raise awareness about the state of our environment is nothing new and some might argue the idea has lost the shock factor. Most students are aware of their waste, but this ‘awareness’ alone does not create change and the solutions, such as recycling, that exist can seem futile. When asked about the difficulty of this seemingly insurmountable problem one of the artists responded:  “given the world that we live in it’s very hard to completely eradicate plastic, but I think our piece is just trying to make people more aware that if they can avoid plastic they should”. The installation is directed at UCT itself, not just the students, the message being that we should all be more cognisant of our waste. This extends from recycling on campus, to the packaging of food sold on campus, and eventually to the waste management of residences. While the artpiece and the message is not novel, given the current state of our waste management, it is unfortunately still a message worth highlighting.

The artists were careful to reiterate that the focus of the installation is campus-centric, the issue of incorrectly used recycling bins was specifically highlighted in the artpiece. There are recycling bins dotted around the Jameson Plaza, a rope created out of recyclable plastic was tied to poles near each of these bins thus connecting them to the central plastic covered structure in the middle of the plaza. This focuses attention on the recycling bins to communicate that recycling is the solution to the sprawling waste. In explaining this Erin Grice, an artist involved, noted:  “We were looking specifically at what the individual can do and how students on campus can help the situation by recycling”. 

Upon first glance the artpiece may look simply like a haphazard collection of plastic that has been plaited together, nothing particularly noteworthy, but the fact that the installation has been created out of strips of recyclable plastic that have been braided together has more meaning. Kayla Howie explained that the installation creates a meditative space where students are called to think about their plastic use, the idea being for students to participate in the braiding of the plastic and to have a “connection with the plastic through a tactile experience”. The braids also speak to the fact that in order to tackle our plastic issue all people need to come together to do whatever little bit they can. 

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