It’s almost impossible to live in today’s society without being exposed to plastic. Every day, in countless ways, mountains of disposable items are used once or twice and then binned.
Plastic is in our clothes and skincare products. It envelops our homewares and hardware, sometimes in several layers, ready to be ripped off and tossed away, wherever “away” is. Many of us accept this, even as we complain about the unnecessary packaging. We know it’s a problem but how often do we reflect meaningfully on just where our voracious consumption of plastic is leading us?
Welcome to The Plastic Bag Store – a whimsical yet sobering environment designed to engage us on a personal level with the damage our habits are inflicting on the world around us.
Having premiered in Manhattan’s Times Square and now open in Rundle Place (inside the area formerly occupied by Harris Scarfe), The Plastic Bag Store is a temporary supermarket stocked with a range of tempting goodies made from the “finest, locally sourced, single-use plastic”. Every hand-sculpted item has been created using waste, and the resulting collection is astounding.
Its creator, Robin Frohardt, is an award-winning artist, puppet designer and director living in Brooklyn, New York. From her love of craft and her self-confessed “obsession with trash” came the desire to expose the absurdity of consumerism by employing its language and marketing techniques to apply a satirical lens to our love affair with plastic.
In the aisles you’ll find everything on your shopping list, each item attractively presented and made from 100 per cent, here-forever, planet-polluting plastic. There are familiar products stacked alongside new lines and unbeatable specials.
Swing by the bakery for baguettes or cap cakes. Pop into the deli to grab a couple of aged hard disks or some garden green bag salad. Perhaps you’re in the market for some Bubbles sparkling water (“shipping air all over the planet since 1960!”) or a giant box of Yucky Shards breakfast cereal. Anyone need some Bagemite (a nod to the Australian context, next to giant green tins of Baglo/Milo) or the latest issue of Bagmopolitan magazine?
Frohardt’s original creation incorporated theatre and puppetry within the shopping space, but the arrival of the pandemic forced those elements to be redesigned. During the immersive experience we attended, we were free to wander until the store was transformed into a makeshift theatre space for the viewing of a series of short films featuring shadow and bunraku puppets, revealing an imagined history of the single-use product, its effect on our life today and how what’s left behind might be interpreted by those who survive the Second Ice Age.
This was followed by a guided tour (conducted by Tyler Gunther, Admiral Grey and Robin Frohardt, all in fabulous white show costumes) of a museum of ancient treasures – a hilarious window into the ways in which the artefacts of our throw-away culture might tell a story vastly different to what really took place.
There’s plenty of seductive silliness, from the cheesy supermarket muzak and loudspeaker announcements to the corny names for the products, and the fun reels us in before pushing us towards deeper engagement with the themes. It’s impossible to ignore the horror of our reliance on this ubiquitous material and the effect this is having on the environment. What price are we prepared to pay for convenience? While the consequences of our addiction to plastic are now widely exposed, we’re still wrapping, sealing and bagging our way to environmental disaster and, so far, there’s no Planet B.
Adelaide’s exposure to this artwork has been perfectly timed, as Green Industries SA has partnered with the Adelaide Festival to sponsor the installation to highlight the Government of South Australia’s single-use plastic product ban (get ready to say goodbye to straws, stirrers, cutlery and more), which starts on March 1.
A visit to The Plastic Bag Store is free of charge and you can explore the installation at your own pace. All slots for the immersive experience are now sold out.
The Plastic Bag Store is at Level 1, Rundle Place, until March 14 as part of the 2021 Adelaide Festival. Recommended for ages 7+.
Read more Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.