Plastic Avatars

Plastic bottles, yogurt cups, milk carton box caps, fruit nets — we find all those things in everyday households. Why are they not valued though? We are used to perceiving these as waste and automatically throw them away. At best, we sort them separately so that they can be recycled; at worst, they end up in landfills. The absolute worst-case scenario is when small plastic pieces get carried by the wind into the oceans and eaten by both birds and fish. But karma follows you around — plastics come in a full circle right back to our plates and end up in YOUR tummy!

Sounds horrifying? But it’s our reality…

EVERY… Snowflake Is Different. Photo: Mandy Barker

How could we avoid such a dark scenario? Inspired by photographer Mandy Barker’s artwork and creative process, the international VIVITA community wished to partake in raising awareness about the problem. Last year, before the pandemic outbreak, we managed to organize a joint beach clean-up, but unfortunately, we didn’t get to create art based on it. This year, we set out to bring the project to a final outcome: building on the artist’s process, we organized a workshop series in three parts: collecting trash, creating collages, and photographing the artworks.

Giving value to household waste

Inducing empathy was the most important part of the process. So we challenged children to collect plastic waste that crops up at home. In a week’s time, a big pile of interesting items accumulated, mainly packaging. According to the kids, collecting waste was not difficult, however, it was somewhat problematic to stay consistent: it would sometimes slip their minds to separate the plastic waste. Yet for some families sorting out the waste is the usual practice, so it didn’t represent a great challenge at all.

Plastic waste surprise pack. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

Plastic Masks as our alter egos

The most furor-inducing part of the process was “playing” with the collected plastic waste. To encourage that, we prepared some samples in advance to show them how to modify plastic materials. Heat-based experiments drew special attention— we used a clothes iron and candlelight. Among other tests, we also tried weaving, knitting, and making knots. All in the name of avoiding excess use of glue! For hours, children were enthusiastically making art by endlessly combining plastics.

Material experiements. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

The material experiments culminated with the creation of masks. The mask made in the project came to symbolize our alter ego. In our case, the mask, even if beautifully decorated, is still covered with the guilt remaining from creating plastic waste and thus conveys the truth about our vices.

Prototypes of masks. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

Images as amplifiers of messages

We collaborated with acclaimed Estonian photographer Iris Kivisalu in order to communicate the negative impact of plastic waste. Through her eye and lens, we created portraits of the children with their masks. In the day and age of Greta Thunberg, it is children who are the most appropriate messengers as they are actually becoming environmental experts. What is the final outcome though? To see the actual photo portraits, you would have to wait for the exhibition opening…

Test photo portrait. Photo: VIVITA Estonia

Raising awareness

In this international project, we wished to communicate to the larger public — for this purpose we are organizing an exhibition as well. The showcase will include artworks not only by Estonian kids, but also VIVITA members from New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, The Philipines, Hawaii, and Lithuania. What works are we showing? To see the outcome, keep your eyes and ears open, in the autumn you could stumble upon the exhibition somewhere in Tallinn.

Until then, we wish everyone passionate waste sorting!

Workshop: Vera Naydenova and Eva Liisa Kubinyi
Text: Eva Liisa Kubinyi
Photos: Sigrid Kägi