Virgina Fleck's 8,000-shopping bag mandala, 'Laguna Gyra,' swirls in imitation of a significant environmental disaster and sends an urgent, powerful message about the need for environmental restoration
Various locations, through Sept. 10
Caught between the water's edge and reeds at Laguna Gloria, a plastic cup, a plastic shopping bag, and a plastic bottle float, perturbed only by the gentle movement of the water. It is an ironic moment. Directly behind me, Virginia Fleck's 8,000-shopping bag mandala, Laguna Gyra, swirls in imitation of a significant environmental disaster: the 1,000-mile-wide subtropical Pacific gyra with a vortex the size of Texas covered in floating plastic trash. This three million-ton mass of debris containing drink containers, plastic utensils, and shopping bags generously contributed by Japan, Canada, and the United States, also contains plastic toxin by-products like DDT and PCBs. The toxic pollutants and plastic debris are digested by fish, birds, and turtles, contaminating the food web. It is the seemingly innocuous plastic shopping bag most often mistaken by marine species as jellyfish. It is the eco-friendly plastic bag, using less energy, water, and generating less air pollution and solid waste during production, that becomes airborne, getting caught on fences and trees and found in the stomachs of animals. South Africans have dubbed them their national flower, the Irish have called them their national flag, and I'm convinced that Wal-Mart grows them on Napolitas. According to Charles Moore, the founder of Algalita Marine Research Foundation (www.algalita.org), "We have created a class of products that defeats even the most creative and insidious bacteria." Most common plastics today are photodegradable, existing for about 1,000 years.
"The installation was born out of my concern and shock about the enormous scope of plastic pollution worldwide on land and at sea. Consumerism and materialism are still the core issues that I am addressing. By mass displaying thousands of bags, each one symbolic of a purchase, I am questioning our consumer culture and what we perceive as conveniences. It's a really terrible problem with a fairly simple solution. Bring your own bag to the supermarket. If you don't have one, come over to my studio and make one," suggests Fleck. Starting in late August, Fleck will be offering a yearlong knitting activism group at her studio, where the same bags used in Laguna Gyra will be crocheted into reusable totes.
It sounds silly, but I have taught more than 650 middle-school children how to make curlicues out of ribbon. Each year I have to impart what I take as basic knowledge about the sharp blades of scissors. You see, the kids were all taught or never corrected, for they open up the scissors, press their thumb against the blade, and pull the ribbon through quickly. If we are doing this poorly in educating our children on the proper use of household utility items, how do we rate when it comes to the proper way to recycle plastic bags?
Next time you take a drive, count the number of plastic bags littering the highway. Kevin Wilson, director of Noosa Regional Gallery in Australia, wrote in a recent article, "Float or Sink," "It's hard when you are standing in any one place at any one time to see a slowly evolving world." Art addressing assaults on our air, water, forests, and fisheries sends an urgent and powerful message regarding the need for environmental restoration.
Laguna Gyra is part of the "Green Wave" exhibition, coordinated by Austin Green Art, whose mission is to enhance Austin's role as an international leader in environmental stewardship. "Green Wave" includes six other site-based art installations throughout the Austin landscape. To get a map for the sites and learn more about the participating artists visit www.austingreenart.org.