Exploring the idea of a shared table, Viviane Le Courtois contributed a series of drawings that were produced during her Saturday morning coffee gatherings at Processus, a community art space she co-founded in Denver. Each week she provided stone fruit to share with participants and asked them to place the pits on a piece of paper after they had eaten the flesh from around the seeds. By the end of the session, the paper was stained with the remnants of the particular fruit. Once dry, she drew the seeds of that fruit amidst the stains to create a sort of collaborative work that was literally produced around a shared table.
Extending the concept beyond the human table, Viviane also looked at the way we share with urban wildlife. Collecting found seeds (and a few plastic cups) from the compost pile in Rian Kerrane’s backyard, she noticed they had been gnawed and nibbled by squirrels and mice and other creatures who frequent our yards. She has started to assemble them with the intention of transforming them into small sculptures that reflect how our ‘shared table’ may reach beyond the ones we frequent within our domestic spaces.
Reflections by Emma Gabriel,
Art Director for Art Relief International
Chiang Mai, Thailand
When Lee Lee first approached us about Debris I got really excited about the ecology and the message of her international project. Aiming to teach about the global impacts of single use plastic on not only the environment but on us as humans, her logic is to bring the message to youth. They are the young questioning and open minds of the future who will help us to unveil just how harshly this material is affecting everything. Lee Lee collects images of the pieces that have been created and continues to set up interactive installations at galleries and educational institutions around the world to bring awareness to the cause.
While she was doing a residency in Chiang Mai, we got the chance to meet with her and learn more about Debris. During our first workshop with her, we also learned that she keeps the art making process very open ended. She first teaches about how marine life are suffering from ingesting toxins from the plastic, which then translates to chemical burdens in land dwelling animals and humans. Once the participants have understood this, she asks them to create a piece of art inspired by these teachings. She brings along bottle caps, straws, and other forms of plastic that she has collected in Chiang Mai, making the project very localized. Usually, she says, she allows the student to collect used plastic from their homes during a specific time period for them to really understand the amount of plastic that we actually use. Another important material she encourages for this project is fused plastic bags that make a stronger plastic and can look quite beautiful. She teaches older students how this process works and encourages them to use their creativity to find beauty in this so called waste.
After collaborating with Lee Lee at Wat Meun Neun Kong during our weekly visit to host a drop in after school arts class, we could see that this project could raise a lot of awareness about the use of plastic. I come from North America, where plastic usage is beginning to be understood and it’s common for people to use their own bags for groceries, and to use a stronger bottle to carry water instead of buying something off the shelf, among other things. But in places like Thailand there isn’t a lot of awareness about the usage of plastic and every trip to a 7/11 or a street food vendor means you’ll collect more than one plastic bag before getting the chance to say you don’t want a bag in the first place, not to mention all the wrapping and packaging of each item. The awareness just isn’t there. So we tried to bring the project to all of the public schools we work with in Chiang Mai including Wat Pa Pao, Wat Kuang Sing, and Wat Ku Kam hoping that we could bring some awareness to them in a creative way.
The students all responded very positively to the process. They seemed to get inspiration from all the plastic and focused intently on their pieces. Because of the ever changing nature of the ocean, Lee Lee allows the students to combine different materials in different ways without glueing them down. We tried to be quick with our cameras to catch some of the interesting creations that the students experimented with.
Once we had reached out to the students, we sent the photos to Lee Lee for her to rework them. We had the opportunity to include the Debris project in our annual exhibition so we showcased the photos outside of a large metal framed bottle filled with plastic (all collected from what we used at our office). This was such a collaborative piece that so many people got to be a part of and we are so happy to have been able to bring this project to the community in such a way.
We also got the chance to work with John and the kids from the Stratton ABC foundation who were working on their own very special version of the project. The kids came up with the idea to create a plastic demon made solely out of plastic. When we arrived to give them a hand they were just finishing this step and were looking for ways to keep him strong and supported. We added some wire to secure his body to a chair and his head to his body and when we returned the second time, Chevy the demon had skin and a face and he was alive and well. We all painted his environment outside on one of the foundation’s walls where he is emerging from the flames of a plastic landfill, ready to warn us about the dangers of plastic.
A big thank you to Lee Lee for reaching out to us here in Chiang Mai.
We hope the project continues to educate and inspire people to make a change, daily.
It was La Napoule Art Foundation that initiated the Debris Project by providing the time and space to develop the foundation of the project during a residency that was geared towards creating work with a young audience in mind. The question, ‘Do You See What I See?’ was intended to celebrate the many perspectives through which our age, experiences, and culture inform our creation of and connection to art. Lee Lee was one of seven artists awarded the residency. The creatures she created there were inspired by figurative works sculpted by Henry Clews in the prior century. An unconventional artist for his time, Henry Clews created an amazing array of sculptures, primarily out of stone. Many of his works were integrated into the structure of the Château as he and his wife, Marie, renovated the ancient structure. His work seemed to be inspired by sea life, perhaps because the Château is perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. There were strange plankton like creatures swimming across arches, and birds perched atop pillars that would peer down on the artists as we dined in the great hall or walk along the arcades around the courtyards. It was a delight to let his work inspire the sea creatures created there, and it was a perfect place to build the foundation of the Debris project. The proposed Debris Project relied on children’s natural inclination towards animals as well as the fact that children today are particularly in tune with issues which define the world which they will inherit.
Because some of the big issues they face are environmental scarcity, it is a gift for children to be informed about issues like plastic pollution. So that they may take ownership of their future, it is important to engage them on pertinent issues through hands on activity in order to help them develop their voices as they explore how to express their intentions. It is inspiring to see a demonstrated interest in having an impact on the world while they are still young. As adults, we can feel encouraged by the idealism of youth in order to contribute to solving environmental issues that are global in scope. Plastic is a material which transcends our differences and has a tremendous impact on all of us. It is one of the most important materials of our age because we simply do not have the natural resources to support our population without it. However, single use plastics are wreaking havoc on both our health and the environment. It is made from a limited resource, it does not cycle back into the environment which creates an inordinate amount of waste and damage to wildlife, and the chemicals which make up plastic are now linked to some of our biggest health concerns today. Extensive research into the nature of plastic pollution has made it clear that the most promising solutions lay at reducing waste at the source, which means that we need to change the cultural paradigm of how we consume materials like plastic.
In 2014, the work produced during the residency was exhibited at the Château de la Napoule, who invited the artists to incorporate an interactive element to the installation. It was this request that inspired the hands on nature of the installation which then led towards the development of the project as a platform for collaboration. Art is an engaging platform on which to explore creative ideas and solutions to problems that affect us all. Because plastic fills our lives, it is a very familiar material which is often taken for granted. The Debris Project was developed to encourage children to consider this very common material in new ways by paying attention to how we use material in our daily lives. It is important to encourage youth to practice awareness of their own actions in the context of the larger world around them. In doing so, they may feel empowered to incorporate small changes in their own lives which would inspire waves of change in the larger spheres of their families and communities. As a compliment to the formal installation, an important development in the project was the interactive element where children could create their own art works from found plastic objects that would otherwise be laid to waste, with hopes that it would inspire reconsideration in re-purposing materials. From the beginning, the intention was to take the project beyond the scope of this particular residency, by finding ways to integrate an interactive element into educational programming at home and abroad in order to engage children on the subject of plastic. An online presence presents the works created as well as reflections of the processes that evolve in order to build a virtual dialogue around this material which touches us all.