Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials

February 8–July 28, 2019

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 at Penn State University, this major loan exhibition features work by an international roster of emerging and mid-career artists, including Dianna Cohen, Mark Dion, Pamela Longobardi, Marina Zurkow, Zanele Muholi, Vik Muniz, Jessica Stockholder, Chris Jordan, Brian Jungen, Aurora Robson, Willie Cole, Pinar Yoldas, Tejal Shah, Ifeoma U. Anyaeji, 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 organized by the Palmer Museum of Art and curated by Joyce Robinson, curator, with guest co-curators Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor, Pennsylvania State University professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and English, and Heather Davis, assistant professor of Culture and Media at The New School. SCMA’s presentation is led by Emma Chubb, Charlotte Feng Ford ’83 Curator of Contemporary Art.

This exhibition and related programs at SCMA are made possible by the support of the Suzannah J. Fabing Programs Fund; the Carlyn Steiner '67 and George Steiner Endowed Fund, in honor of Joan Smith Koch; the Judith Plesser Targan, class of 1953, and the Enid Silver Winslow, class of 1954, Art Museum Funds; and the Tryon Associates.

 

Image: Aurora Robson, Isla, 2014, plastic debris (PET + HDPE), aluminum rivets, tinted polycrylic, and mica powder. Courtesy of the artist.