Casting off: a close-knit comment from artist Bettina Schroeder on peak oil and the struggle for world resources
By James Brewer
Branded as one of the wasteful symbols of the age, plastic bags are still insistently around. How much longer their begetter, crude oil, will be around as an easily exploitable resource is very much a matter for debate. London artist Bettina Schroeder wades into this quagmire of contradiction in her latest exhibition, Future Relics, from January 31 to February 13 2013 at the Vibe Gallery, Tower Bridge Business Centre, SE1.
The title refers to the prospect that everyday objects like plastic bags and even motorcars will become extinct in the not so distant future. A by-product of oil, the pesky bags can in fact be seen as a source of energy, creative energy, and human endeavour. Bettina’s artwork brings out this inherent positive quality, alongside the convenient lightness of the receptacles. For all their cheapness, plastic bags like luxury goods carry the burden of being one of the most seductive consumer articles, she says. Their reliance on ‘black gold’ makes them symbols of looming ‘peak oil’, the subsequent decline in oil production and the sharpening struggle for world resources.
Despite their precious origin carrier bags are of brief use. Once discarded, they do not waste away like other refuse, but end up in growing landfills and when washed into the oceans take the form of disgusting slagheaps. “Future archaeologists might find these extraordinarily durable objects left behind by earlier generations and wonder about their purpose, ” muses Bettina. “How will they be able to explain the existence of these materials, amassed in tomb-like caverns, and not think of them as sacred relics?”
Bettina has knitted canvases from plastic bags and overlaid them with appliqué, stencils and found objects, with a 2 m high installation called The Rescue Dress at the centre. The dress trails along the ground for 10 m, representing floods of water and crude oil, upon which all sorts of ‘found’ figures are adrift, clinging on for dear life, trying to escape from natural disaster or human conflict. In this scenario, once they have climbed onto the dress, they are safe from danger or harm, with a new life ahead of them.
This makes for a somewhat playful, but clever, comment on environmental, cultural and political issues: the fight for natural resources, environmental changes, and the ‘throwaway mentality’ in industrialised societies. Re-using the carrier bags in knitted form reverses the negative process of waste and destruction.
Found objects in the shape of toy cars are used in another installation. Cars, “the ultimate object of desire, ” are jostling on a road to nowhere. The black colour of the processed plastic bags and their oily texture represents the path to destruction, the relentless consumption of fossil fuels.
The current exhibition is the latest in a series, incorporating plastic products, which began with a site-specific installation entitled Products By, in 2005 at the Arches, Hoxton. More at http://www.bettinaschroeder.