Recycled plastic is featured in sculpture

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When New Zealand artist Eve Armstrong assembled her sculpture Taking Stock, she had no concept she had actually developed an artwork that contained almost every plastic resin, except polystyrene.

The sculpture features a wide range of “found objects,” predominantly white and transparent plastic items, seemingly randomly placed together.

Armstrong, 34, first assembled the work in 2010 when she was commissioned by a group called Letting Space, which organizes major temporary artworks in commercial and public spaces, rather than galleries. The artwork was installed over two stories inside a vacant retail showroom in Armstrong’s home city, Wellington.

Last year she reassembled a smaller version of the installation for an exhibition in Wellington’s City Gallery, which has just closed.

The gallery catalog describes the work as “commercially produced objects of everyday life scavenged, reordered and represented.”

Armstrong had assistance from the public to collect the massive amount of recycled plastic needed for “Taking Stock.” She also received assistance from two Wellington-based plastics companies, Grayley Plastic Supplies and Flight Group Ltd.

“I set up collection points in galleries, then went round with a trolley and collected everything,” she said.

Armstrong gave donors clear specifications on what was required — clean clear or white recycled plastic items, but no milk bottles. She needed items that could be stacked and propped against each other.

The original Taking Stock, which resembled a secondhand retail outlet, took almost two weeks to assemble. Its reincarnation was put together more quickly.

Armstrong said her sculpture’s form is heavily influenced by the space it is in, working with the available light, the floor surface and the wall heights. In the City Gallery, it is installed in front of a window providing natural light, which gives it an almost translucent glow.

Armstrong said she wanted Taking Stock to have transparency. “It’s a fragile, delicate work,” but the objects it is made from are not. “There’s tension between those two things.”

With the City Gallery exhibition just ending, Armstrong has no idea what the future holds for Taking Stock. “I’m trying to figure that out. I’d like to be able to keep it.”

But she’s not upset that so much of her artwork has a short life span. “I think of it as pausing in the gallery space. That connects with the idea of the fragility of our systems,” for example, the financial system and the global financial crisis that created the empty showroom in which the original Taking Stock was on display for only 10 days. “A lot of my work sinks back into the world.”

Nor is Armstrong trying to convey a message about recycling. “I don’t intend my work to be didactic in any way. I’m interested in the tension between emptiness and fullness and permanence and impermanence.”

And there was no deliberate intent to create a sculpture containing products made from PET, polyethylene, PVC and polypropylene. She said she was not even aware of the diversity of resins Taking Stock included.

Armstrong, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 2003, is interested in how people respond to her artwork.

“At a visual level, some find it beautiful, others think it’s repulsive,” she said.

Armstrong’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout New Zealand, and in 2008 it was included in a group exhibition in Los Angeles’ 1301PE Gallery, which showcases cutting-edge contemporary artists.