On the way from work, I stop by at the market. I crave some bananas and I need a few lemons. Before weighing them and getting a price, I neatly place them in those see-through plastic bags. Quickly, I also grab my favourite yogurt in a cup and a bottle of water, since I forgot to drink all day. The last thing I need is a piece of cheese, packed in a stretch foil. There, I’m done. Since I’m always in a hurry, I rush to the self-cashier’s and stuff my purchase in their handy plastic bags. Once I’m home, placing my yield on the spots, where it belongs, I realize, I made it home with three new plastic bags, plastic cup and a bottle, and a plastic foil. Ok, it’s not that bad. It gets worse though, when thinking this happens nearly every second day. And not only in my case. However, what has this to do with museums? More than we think.
Out to Sea? Is an exhibition telling a story about a phenomenal material – plastic. Plastic is amazing, since it can have any characteristic we want. It is cheap, light… practically it is perfect. It even contributed to the development of the daily appliances. Plastic is so to say almighty. Moreover, it is very badly degradable. It proves its almightiness also in the sea, the final station where it ends up in large masses every 20 to 30 seconds.
To decompose, plastic needs UV rays.
Would you like to take a look of what size of a mass am I talking about? Take a walk through the travelling exhibition, currently hosted in The Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO). Already during the visit, your brain will start to ruminate on this. Exhibition from The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, which travels around the world in environment-friendly way, is set to be easily understood and introduced to the children. The visitor is introduced to an afterlife of plastic, once it served its purpose for the humans. The exhibition plays with a thought, what archaeological diggings will our successors find. It offers an insight on how much plastic waste we produce; it illustrates the different ways of recycling. It enables us to discover on our own, how much and how small plastic bits are hiding in the sea sand. It serves us with facts about the plastic and visual enrichments, among which also a mockumentary – depicting a plastic bag’s struggle to reach the bags’ afterlife paradise – gets its place.
Poisons, hiding in the plastic bits, are accumulated in the organism’s fat tissue, rounding the food chain with us: the fish eats the bits, and we eat the fish. And the poisons along with the fish.
Despite seeing this exhibition already in Graz in 2015, which stunned me already then, it took MAO’s localized Slovene plastic waste input to really strike me. Besides, being greeted by a monthly catch of domestic plastic waste, collected by the museum staff, when entering the exhibition also did its part on my emotional involvement. Most visible and unique host’s input on the travelling exhibition is an analysis of the materials of the plastic national heritage, kept in MAO’s collections. Through that, they expose the overlooked fact; there is more than just one type of plastic, as it is often perceived. Moreover, the restorers being unable to define the types with their bare eyes, this everyday material becomes unfamiliar, diverse and puzzling. What type of plastic we have is important not only for its decomposition – since not all types last the same amount of time – but also for its storage. The last is clearly stressed in MAO’s input at the exhibition with an analyse of selected design objects, opening an often overlooked chapter of object-keeping in museums, while warning about the issue; possibly causing a few grey hair to restorers and keepers of museum collections.
An exhibition that gives you chills and convinces you to make a fresh new year’s resolution.
The exhibition does not pretend to offer any aesthetic pleasures to the visitors. It plays a role of something greater. It reminds us of what we do on regular basis, and how effective we do it. If museums are supposed to take on a more active role in the society, influencing and co-shaping the society, this exhibition is a way, how this can be done. This is an exhibition not only all the children and schools need to see, but also we – adults should not miss out on it.