Artists and scientists working together to showcase plastic in a new light
A unique Edinburgh exhibition that combines art and science to encourage us to think about our relationship with plastic and how our choices impact on the global climate emergency and biodiversity crisis we face today. At the John Hope Gateway until Sunday November 1, Think Plastic: Materials and Making is encouraging visitors to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) to reassess and adjust their perception of the value of plastic and by doing so minimise its impact on the environment and change our disposable attitude towards it.
Two years ago, when ceramists Lorna Fraser and Carol Sinclair decided to look at the environmental impact of porcelain usage and question if alternative, less environmentally damaging alternatives were available, they soon started to engage other specialists in an exciting new project.
Together Lorna and Carol collaborated with fellow artists Fiona Hutchison, Fiona Pilgrim and Carla Edwards, along with scientists including RBGE’s tropical taxonomist Dr Peter Wilkie, to create the exhibition, which through works of art, jewellery and contemplation of plastic in our everyday lives, presents it as a valuable, often controversial and sometimes misunderstood product.
With an initial grant from Interface, the group worked with Professor Michael Shaver of the University of Edinburgh Green Materials Laboratory and his students Hattie Chisnall and Emily Macdonald.
“Plastic is an amazing substance and its versatility and low cost has transformed our lives, however it is these very same virtues that have also resulted in the massive environmental problems we are seeing today” said Lorna Fraser. “This exhibition through the prism of art shows how beautiful different kinds of plastics can be and by doing so encourages us to value it and change our disposable attitude towards it – it is often not plastic that is the issue but how we humans use and dispose of it”
Peter Wilkie explained: “I got involved with the exhibition through my research on tropical tree family Sapotaceae and in particular Palaquium gutta which produces a brilliant white latex, gutta percha, widely recognised as one of the earliest natural plastics and a precursor to synthetic alternatives”.
“With financial help from the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, some new and sustainably produced gutta blocks were purchased from the Tjipetir Plantation in Indonesia and they have been used by Lorna and Carol to form part of the exhibition. Their work encourages us to think more deeply about the production, degradation and sustainable use of different types of plastic and how our choices can impact on the climate emergency and biodiversity crises we face today.’’
At a time of new awareness surrounding the interdependence of the health of people, the environment and economies, Project Producer Amy Porteous said it is important the exhibition has an opportunity to reach as many visitors to the Garden as possible. She explained: “At the time of its inception, this exhibition felt necessary, but that urgency has multiplied tenfold. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on how we value plastic. Governments around the world have delayed or backtracked on policies to reduce plastic consumption, and single-use plastic – in the form of PPE and packaging – has skyrocketed.
“Simultaneously, RBGE has been awarded Outset Contemporary Art Fund’s Transformative Grant to create Climate House – ‘an institute for ecology at the edge’. At the heart of this three-year project lie the principles of collaboration, experimentation, and the power of fostering interactions between art and science – all of which chimes with Think Plastic.’’
Amy added: “We can see our artistic approach to planetary health resonating with our visitors too. They are being inspired by the exhibition to share what they could change in their daily lives to become more sustainable. In turn, we are looking forward to learning from their suggestions.’’
While admission to the Garden remains free, visitors will notice a number of temporary changes in line with Scottish Government guidelines. To provide a safe and warm welcome back, the RBGE has temporarily introduced time slots for tickets to be booked online in advance of visits.
To ensure personal distancing, entry is through the Emergency Vehicle Access (EVA) Gate at Arboretum Place and the East Gate on Inverleith Row. Some one-way paths are also in operation in the Garden and the John Hope Gateway.
Think Plastic: Materials and Making is supported by Players of People’s Postcode Lottery, Creative Scotland, The City of Edinburgh Council, Friends of RBGE, Interface, and Professor Michael Shaver’s Green Materials Laboratory at both the University of Edinburgh and University of Manchester.
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