The story of plastic is as complex as the polymer chains that make up its unique material properties. Plastic Entanglements brings together sixty works by thirty contemporary artists to explore the environmental, aesthetic, and technological entanglements of our ongoing love affair with this paradoxical, infinitely malleable substance. Both miraculous and malignant, ephemeral yet relentlessly present, plastic infiltrates our global networks, our planet, and even our bodies.
Organized by the Palmer Museum of Art, this major loan exhibition features work by an international roster of emerging and mid-career artists, including Mark Dion, Marina Zurkow, Zanele Muholi, Vik Muniz, Jessica Stockholder, Chris Jordan, Brian Jungen, Aurora Robson, Willie Cole, Pinar Yoldas, Tejal Shah, and Moreshin Allahyari. Visitors will encounter a varied array of artwork, from meticulous drawings, photographs, and video installations to 3d-printed objects and sculptures fabricated from found plastic.
Plastic Entanglements unfolds in three sections, charting a timeline—past, present, and future—of our ongoing engagement with this ubiquitous manmade material.
The Archive examines the ways in which plastic objects make up an inadvertent record of daily life from the mid-twentieth century onwards. Resiliently non-biodegradable, plastic has created both a cultural and literal archive for artists to salvage, identify, and assemble.
The Entangled Present reveals the ways in which plastic binds people, plants, and animals together across diverse geographical locations and through global systems. The works of art in this section focus attention on the complex effects of the reach of plastic on ecological—that is, interactive human and natural—networks as well as on current artistic practice and reveal the ways in which we are bound up in plastic realities, often regardless of our individual choices or ideals.
The exhibition concludes with a section dedicated to Speculative Futures, asking what unknown worlds are emerging from the omnipresence of plastic, including new geologic and biologic forms. Engaging with new materials and modes of plastic production, artists are also opening up our imaginations to the range of possible futures in plastic.
Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials was curated by Joyce Robinson, Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, and Heather Davis. The exhibition will travel to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, University of Oregon (September 22–December 30, 2018); Smith College Museum of Art (February 8–July 28, 2019); and the Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin-Madison (September 13, 2019–January 5, 2020).
This exhibition was made possible by available funds from the Donald W. Hamer Endowment for Art Acquisitions and Exhibitions. Major support was provided by The Arboretum at Penn State, College of Arts and Architecture, Materials Research Institute, Sustainability Institute, University Libraries, George Dewey and Mary J. Krumrine Endowment, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.