2663 Urban Tumbleweeds — An MSLK Art Installation

At MSLK we’ve been thinking a lot about sustainable design and what we can do – both as designers and as a studio – to make this world a better place to live. Although the global trend toward sustainability has been intensively discussed and celebrated all over America, the reality is still alarming. One of the most common and ubiquitous signs of our use and waste is the plastic shopping bag. In cities, plastic bags are referred to as “urban tumbleweed” because of their omnipresent, weed-like quality. We came up with the idea to create a graphic statement on a grand scale, an art installation made out of 2663 plastic bags, or 1 second of the current US consumption, in order to bring awareness to our society’s mindless over consumption and its severe environmental impacts.We discovered that Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City is going to present a Spring Exhibition based on interpretations and responses to the motivations, goals, realities, politics, and practices of recycling. Coincidence or destiny? Who knows. We decided to apply and present them our idea of re-purposing wasted material into an art installation.Why Plastic Bags? Plastic bags are found littering our streets, caught in our trees and clogging our drains. But the problem is much more than a nuisance. Each year, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Perceived as free, the actual cost of plastic bags is becoming apparent in our landfills, where they are amassing. And with our rate of consumption ever increasing, there seems to be no end in sight.Our InstallationOur goal is to visually translate current statistics about this consumption into art, using the plastic bag as a symbol of over-consumption and convenience. We will link 2663 plastic bags to form a chain, representing the number of bags Americans consume in one second.The chain will wind through Socrates Sculpture Park, entangled in trees, wrapped along fences, along the ground and way up in the air. Our installation is indicative of the plastic bag epidemic itself – silently encroaching ever closer on our lives.Besides its visual effect, the installation also has an educational impact. Informational signage will be integrated periodically throughout, providing the audience with facts about the consumption of plastic bags, their environmental impact, and what can be done to change and improve the situation.In addition, this installation will encourage community participation. We’ll set up drop off stations and collection centers locally to accumulate the donated bags and bring awareness to both the problem and installation.Bird’s eye view of the park:The bags meander through the park, creating a guided path that visitors can follow. The chain becomes a narrative that is present throughout the visitor’s experience of the exhibition, encircling the artwork without being intrusive. Colored bags are grouped together in bursts to create a beautiful pattern.Lasting impressions

  • Although uninteresting as a single item, the repetitions and the light, ethereal nature of the bags floating in the wind, create unexpected beauty.
  • The sheer scale of this installation will be a must see in person.
  • Each visitor will leave Socrates Sculpture Park thinking about their consumption habits and ways to make a change.
  • Visitors are transformed from passive viewers into active participants. Engaging with this installation in unavoidable — visitors will have to walk under or step over the chain at various points to view the exhibition.
  • Visitors are challenged to question what is art. Can plastic bags become art?

Socrates Sculpture Park’s Spring Exhibition is taking place from May through August 2008. The jury is expect to make a decision in March. We are excited and hope to get this chance to realize our proposal!