Student sculpture exhibit prompts reflections on plastic usage

This past week the Sculpture II class at Hope displayed their exhibit titled “What Remains” in the DeWitt staircase. They hosted a closing reception on Thursday, Nov. 3, where students could walk through the staircase at night and see the final show complete with lighting. Each of the five students did one piece in the show and two students, Gabriel Kimball and Maddie Korff collaborated on one of the larger pieces. According to Jo Locke (‘24), who handled the publicity for the show, “We all had different roles in that but we also helped each other.” Kimball was in charge of communicating with the campus physical plant and Locke was in charge of talking to the Dean and creating the posters. 

For this project, the students focused on their goal of using “found plastic” from the drive instead of buying saran wrap or other materials to put the structures together. With that, they decided to hold a plastics drive for the first two or three weeks of class to gather materials. 

While the exhibit was a project for the Sculpture II class, it was also a bit of a collaboration with the dance department. The Dance 49 showcase will be presenting a similar theme on plastic usage. 

Locke’s piece was hanging in the center of the DeWitt stairway. Credit: Jo Locke

What did you learn about plastic waste from doing this project?

I interviewed Jo Locke (‘24) to give some insights into the exhibit. About this question, they said, “When you start to do a plastic drive, you start to think about how much you use every day. Especially food packaging is a big one for me. It’s like everything in my fridge…. and it’s never going to be reused.”

Another example of unnecessary plastic waste that Locke has thought about since doing the project was plastic newspaper bags. “You think, oh it’s a newspaper, it’s recyclable… but then it comes in a plastic bag.”

And then thinking about the creation of the sculptures: “Also thinking about melting plastic, because that’s kind of how I put my piece together… I was melting the bags together. So thinking about how [the plastic is] dissipating, it’s going away, but it’s turning into this toxic smoke that I might breathe in. It’ll go away, but what is it leaving? It was interesting to think about that too when making the piece.”

Challenges for the Class

One of the biggest challenges for the group was that they were all getting sick, especially in the final weeks of preparation. Locke explains, “There’s only five of us in the class so when one person is gone it’s really hard to communicate. For the last two weeks it was like every day there was a person not there which was really tough.” 

That contributed to the delayed timing of the exhibit which the class originally intended. “We originally wanted to have the opening of the show on Halloween… I even had friends who commentated on how Gabe’s structures outside looked like ghosts or something Halloween-esque.” Locke’s challenge for their own structure was the issue of having no cords on the piece, so she had to communicate with the engineering department to figure out how it could work. 

A structure is placed in the rocks at the bottom of the staircase, making use of the unique gallery space. (Taken by a Sculpture II student)

Plurality of Space

Walking through the gallery-turned staircase did have a bit of an eerie feeling from the ghost-like figures to the visual of everyday extensive plastic usage as well as a visual of being underwater with floating structures surrounding you. 

Because of the space used for the exhibit, the glass windows surrounding the DeWitt staircase, the effect of the sculptures almost mimicked a feeling of being inside a fish bowl. Locke explains that the underwater effect wasn’t actually intended or considered until the pieces were in the space together and started to create that effect, it just came to life aided by the materials used. Locke’s piece even looked like a sea anemone, as it actually inflated and deflated to create the effect of something breathing. 

Even though it was not intended for the show to be about plastics ending up in the ocean, Locke says, “It’s hard to have a show about plastics and not think about the ocean because it is such a big part of where all the plastics end up.”

Locke commented on the challenge of using the DeWitt stairway as the location for the exhibit, “How do you convert a space that’s not meant to be a gallery space into a gallery space?” The class got to pick any location, so when one student suggested it they decided to go with it. Locke says “I don’t think I’ll be able to walk through that space again and not think of it as a gallery space.” They even had run-ins with administrators because of the location of the exhibit, “I would be working on the piece in that space, trying to get the mechanics figured out, and President Scogin would be walking up the stairs because his office is right there.”

If you got the chance to see the sculpture exhibit while walking by DeWitt this week, hopefully, you stopped by to check out the students’ impressive work from up close. And, hopefully, you were able to reflect on plastic pollution and your daily plastic usage, because as Locke said in our interview, “Plastic will outlive you, what will it be once you’re gone?”

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