By Audrey Richardson
Straight from the trash cans of New York, a new art exhibit in Ann Arbor, Michigan, criticizes the overuse of plastic.
The plastic bag store is an entire grocery store made from plastic waste and filled with cheeky packaging and ironic product titles. The University of Michigan exhibit questions over-consumption, over-packaging and our legacy as a human race.
Creator Robyn Frohardt said trips to the grocery store inspired her.
“I was noticing the absurdity of how much packaging was being used and thrown away, so I thought it would be funny to do something even more ridiculous,” she said.
Frohard plays with product names. For example, Kellogg’s Eggo waffles are now “Baggo”, accompanied by the tagline “hot melting bags in the morning!”
The exhibition also offers an immersive film and puppet experience that deals with what archaeologists of the future will think are our values today.
“You start to imagine what people in the future might think of all this stuff when they dig it up,” Frohardt said. “They can completely misinterpret what these objects are and what they mean to us.”
The Plastic Bag Shop was brought to Ann Arbor by four University of Michigan partners: the University Music Society, the Graham Institute for Sustainability, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and the Office of the President’s Arts Initiative.
“This project really provides leverage for more active involvement of organizations and community engagement in the great societal issues of our time,” said Sarah Billman, vice president of marketing and communications for the University Music Society.
“As a piece of art, it’s absolutely incredible,” Billman said. “It’s all a little ironic, even to the point where you can turn it over and see the ingredient list that says ‘contains Starbucks bottle caps, straws, stirrers.’
The collaboration got more people to hear about the installation and created a larger audience for the production, said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.
Combining science with artwork is an essential part of tackling the problem of plastic pollution, Haverkamp said.
“The wicked problems we face in terms of sustainability cannot be solved by science alone,” she said.
Frohard agrees: the installation includes “more people’s hearts, not just their minds.”
“I think it takes all kinds of people working together,” she said.
The collaboration between the university partners also spurred a panel presentation on solving the problem of single-use plastics hosted by the University of Michigan Art Museum on January 30 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm in the Helmut Stern Auditorium.
The discussion will “help reinforce the art’s messages and get people to learn more about the issue,” Haverkamp said.
As for the store, “it’s something you can appreciate on a surface level, but it’s also something that resonates on a much deeper level and will hopefully ultimately change behavior,” Billman said.
After visiting the plastic bag store, Frohardt said he wants people to walk into a normal grocery store with a different perspective.
“I hope that people will have a deeper understanding or a deeper context of how our actions today can affect the distant future,” she said.
You can visit the Plastic Bag Shop in Building 777 on the University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus until February 5th. You can buy tickets from Wednesday to Sunday.