What inspired you to make art out of plastic bags?

Two things really. One was the strong environmental messages I could convey and One was the great colours and forms I could create out of the material.
I developed works using recycled plastic bags as the primary medium a few years ago, “Blue River” was one of these works using this medium. This work was a finalist in the 2003 Wynne prize at the Art Gallery of NSW and signalled a slight departure from my more recognizable assemblage works, in which I used plastics and other detritus collected from the Eastern seaboard, “Thong Totems” which won the Wynne Prize in 2000 is a good example.

I am with this work, apart from wishing to express obvious environmental messages, particularly interested in the brilliance of the colours and textures available to me in working with this medium. I am constantly surprised to see the variations in these plastics, very much like how I am intrigued by the beach found objects I have collected over the years.

I imagine these plastic bags, which mostly have a lifespan of many years, are in fact on the verge of extinction, as it is only a matter of time before governments impose such strict deterrents to people using them that they become a thing of the past. A fitting end to what has become such a scourge to our environment on a worldwide scale.

The Irish Government imposed a 10 cent levy on the use of these bags some years ago and saw the consumption of this product decrease by approximately 90% within a year, a reduction of many billions of plastic bags per year!
Once again, I am able as a contemporary visual artist, to use these recycled materials, to create artworks which I hope, express a certain beauty as well as containing their oun unique environmental messages.

This is my way of making a difference, and at the same time I’m sharing a positive message about beauty that can be gained from the aesthetic experience of appreciating art, as well as giving examples of how we can recycle and reuse in creative ways. These artworks exemplify my commitment as an artist to express contemporary social and environmental concerns.

What is it that makes plastic bags such a nuisance?

Overconsumption and their discardability. Danger to wildlife including fish. Environmental vandalism caused by the careless disposal of them into the environment and landscape.
It looked great in the sequence in the movie American Beauty, But that was an isolated event.

This is all substantiated by a following report by the Australian Government

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

In 2005, Australians used 3.92 billion lightweight single use high density polyethylene (HDPE) bags. 2.14 billion of these came from supermarkets, while the others were used by fast food restaurants, service stations, convenience stores and liquor stores and other shops.

Plastic bags are popular with consumers and retailers as they are a functional, lightweight, strong, cheap, and hygienic way to transport food and other products.

Most of these go to landfill (rubbish tips) after they are used, and some are recycled. In 2002 around 50 to 80 million bags ended up as litter in our environment. While the number littered has probably been reduced since then, it is likely that a large number still enter the environment. Once littered, plastic bags can find their way on to our streets, parks, and into our waterways.

Although plastic bags make up only a small percentage of all litter, the impact of these bags is nevertheless significant. Plastic bags create visual pollution problems and can have harmful effects on aquatic and terrestrial animals. Plastic bags are particularly noticeable components of the litter stream due to their size and can take a long time to fully break down.

The Australian Government is working with industry and the community to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags. However, everyone shares some responsibility for this problem – from plastic bag manufacturers and importers who sell the bags, shop keepers who give them away, and the customers who use them. It is up to all of us to help find the solution.

In recent years, many people have started to use reusable bags, such as the ‘green bags’ you can buy at most supermarkets. Because of these efforts, the number of HDPE bags used in Australia has fallen from around 6 billion in 2002 to 3.92 billion in 2005. However, there is a lot more that can be done.

Plastic bag facts

* Australians used 3.92 billion plastic shopping bags per year.
* Nearly half a million plastic bags are collected on Clean Up Australia Day each year. (source – CUA)
* It takes only four grocery shopping trips for an average Australian family to accumulate 60 plastic shopping bags. (source – CUA)
* Plastic bags are produced from polymers derived from petroleum. The amount of petroleum used to make a plastic bag would drive a car about 11 metres. (source – CUA)
* In 2005, Australians used 192 HDPE bags per capita. (source – Nolan ITU)
* 14% of HDPE plastic carry bags are returned to major supermarkets for recycling. (source – ANRA)

Are paper bags any better?

As paper does come from trees… I think ultimately a bag made from some kind of recyclable material or made from a sustainable practice material would be the best.

In the US there are many initiatives to outright ban plastic bags – as an iconic though troubled item, do you think the bag could ultimately disappear from public consumption?

I would hope so, we have only relied on them for the past 50 or so years.
I believe presently humanity is at a critical point in time, with our planet currently existing in a fragile ecological state, with global warming hastening unheard of
changes, all amplifying the fact that we need all the help we can get. Removing mass produced plastic bags from circulation, would be a good step in the right direction, simply retraining people to not overly consume and to recycle where possible.