MONTREAL - Functional plastic art will adorn Toronto's Don Valley next spring. ``The Elevated Wetlands'' project will comprise three plastic sculptures planted with trees and other vegetation to absorb pollutants in water pumped from the Don River. It is the first of five large, public art projects planned in the Society of the Plastics Industry of Canada's Plastics + Art program.
Plastics + Art should create links between industry and the arts community, according to Noel Harding, the artist designing ``The Elevated Wetlands.''
``If industry ignores the creative community it will suffer in the long run,'' Harding said in an interview at Expoplast '96, held Oct. 8-9 in Montreal, where SPI Canada featured a video of ``The Elevated Wetlands'' project at its booth.
Each of the project's sculptures will be built from 16-foot-long expanded polystyrene blocks joined under tension to give compressive strength. Acrylic stucco will cover the sculptures' exteriors. Each sculpture's volume will be about 4,000 cubic feet.
The functional part of the sculptures will be plastic ``soil.'' A solar-powered pump will extract water from the Don River and trickle it through the sculptures where plants will purify it by absorbing pollutants in their roots, leaves and flowers.
Harding said he and engineers still are working on details of the ``soil'' but most of it will be made of recycled plastic.
Harding envisions separate layers of regular soil, reground plastic, post-consumer bottles and automotive shredder residue, which is commonly called fluff. Harding expects the recycled plastics and auto fluff to make up about two-thirds of the soil construction.
About 3 million motorists a month will see ``The Elevated Wetlands,'' according to SPI Canada. It will be visible from the Don Valley Parkway, one of Toronto's busiest highways.
Harding developed prototype sculptures for ``The Elevated Wetlands'' earlier this year at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. His studies showed plant roots need to be protected from temperature shocks and therefore EPS is a key construction material for the Toronto work.
Local industry and several university departments participated in the prototype research.
The practical side of the Toronto installation will show how waste plastic can be used as a soil medium that purifies water and sustains plant growth. Municipalities and companies eventually could apply such technology for cleanup systems in storm sewers and for industrial waste.
Harding, a renowned Toronto artist, frequently uses plastics in his sculptures and other works, which he has built and installed throughout Europe and North America.
He laments that plastics are not allowed in most sculpture competitions because of biases favoring traditional materials. Harding said he chooses materials to reflect the emotions in his work, and plastics allow great expressive freedom.
He dismisses architects' concerns that plastics might not stand up to the elements. Ironically, plastics' critics complain that the materials won't degrade in natural environments.
``The Elevated Wetlands'' probably will be worth more than C$500,000 (US$369,000) but Harding said economics ``is not the nature of the project.'' It is not a cost-effective way of purifying some of the Don River's water, and it relies on support from industry. Several plastics companies are involved, including Plasti-Fab Ltd., an EPS products firm based in Calgary, Alberta.
SPI Canada said companies earn good public relations when they support projects that create highly visible, lasting works of art. Potential benefits include spinoffs from research related to the projects. Costs can be offset by tax deductions for project research and development. Tax deductions also are possible for the value of materials and work when the artwork is donated to the community.
SPI Canada targets the next Plastics + Art project for Calgary, Alberta, in 1997. In subsequent years it will coordinate works for Vancouver, British Columbia; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Montreal. Each project will involve a well-known artist.
SPI Canada will promote partnerships among the municipalities, companies and artists.
To illustrate how businesses might justify involvement in such art projects, he quoted Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream: ``It makes [business] open to the possibility that caring capitalism, where you consider the effects on the community alongside products and profits, might actually work.''