A zine hangs within the gallery, its insides marked with pages of blue marker script calling for action. “While plastic can be a hero to modern society,” an excerpt reads, “we must remember that the production of this artificial, almost-too-resilient material is in our hands. And we have been greatly abusing our power.”
The piece, Alyssa Anderson’s “Every Piece of Plastic Ever Made Will Outlive You” zine, is joined in the gallery by another work of the same name, in which the artist showcases plastic collected from around the Cayuga Lake area. Displayed against the wall, as if presenting a case study, there’s anything from caution tape, a tampon applicator, and an NSYNC CD to cigarette butts, ear buds, and much more. These benign everyday objects add up.
“Strewn Forgotten Gathered ReImagined” is a show displayed at the Community School of Music and Art (CSMA) through July, and was created in collaboration with Cayuga Lake Watershed Network and the Glorious Trash Birds (a local Facebook group), both of whom regularly work together to pick up trash along the inlet and watershed areas. Artists within the group take claim to some of the findings and repurpose the objects into works of art, intended both to create artworks and to promote a larger message of awareness toward the amount of trash we produce regularly and the need for more environmental and sustainable thinking.
Within the show, Nancy Corwin Malina repurposed plastic straws into a dense forest. They populate a shadow box with crusted dark bark and a shredded mess of foliage, dipped thickly in acrylic paint colored with coffee grounds. One wouldn’t have guessed that the work was created from literal garbage, including Styrofoam and headphone wire, along with the actual straws.
Magdalena Zink’s “Cups” works, of which there are five in the show in total, take disposable cups from Gimmie Coffee and deconstructs them to their core materials. Separating the plastic and paper of each cup, Zink flattens the materials and lays them out against the wall, creating a surface that is unrecognizable and appears similar to handmade paper. In my mind, the works are beautiful in aesthetic: crinkled and uneven, rough at the edges. But, again, they also carry a message, highlighting the push and pull between resources we use, in this case the plastic and paper of our coffee cups that most often can’t be recycled.
Interestingly, trash has proven to be a fruitful subject matter for photographers as well, whose works in the show appear thoughtful and emotive. Marsha Taichman’s “#underwearincollegetown” series documents a slew of colorful underthings happened upon outside, from a neglected nude-colored bra strung over a curb to black Calvin Klein briefs deserted on some grass. Devoid of their owners, the underwear becomes displaced—a glimpse of an untold story and also, proven no longer useful, a new piece of trash.
Caroline Byrne’s “Trash Pictures Behind TOPS and Stewart Park” elevate trash to a new level of poise. Framed beautifully with nature, the pieces of refuse blend with the landscape. In one, a mannequin head lays in the lake, parallel to fallen branches, the water a deep blue around it. In another, a puzzle piece sticks out from underbrush and the roots of a tree. The white and rigid structure of the puzzle piece is juxtaposed against the more organic edges of the earth, yet somehow still seems in place.
Environmentalism has become a pressing issue over the past many years and “Strewn Forgotten Gathered ReImagined” does a strong job of reasserting the importance of awareness and does so via a very local and accessible lens. Along with that, it’s nice to see a fully-curated show with a purpose, something that, despite Ithaca’s art-focused community, can at times be far and few between. The show could have benefited from a prominently-displayed show statement to press the points further, and admittedly some of the artworks appeared a touch out of place—Robin Tropper-Herbel’s found objects, for example, were intriguing enough for a standalone show, but here carried an air of nostalgic mystique in conflict with the more environmental-lens of the rest of the show. Overall, however, “Strewn Forgotten Gathered ReImagined” was certainly a success.