Presented by: Igor Siddiqui

Protoplastic, an installation in a prominent Memphis gallery, stages simultaneous encounters between high and low technologies, renewable and non-renewable resources, as well as between permanence and disposability. The exhibition consists of a sculptural installation cast from biodegradable plastic and the acrylic formwork that was used to construct it. The author frequently uses advanced digital technologies to design and fabricate their work. In this project the intricately patterned form is conceived digitally and inscribed into the acrylic surfaces using computer-controlled machinery. The resulting cuts produce highly detailed reliefs that function as both drawings and molds. These reliefs are then filled with liquid plastic in order to cast the translucent surfaces tailored to aggregate into a larger sculpture. The plastic is made from scratch in his studio from nontoxic, compostable ingredients in a manner that reflects trial-and-error experimentation and open-ended research. With the sensibility of both a designer and an experienced home cook, the author has come across many opportunities to adjust the material’s properties to suit his needs, but has also been challenged by the its organic nature. The cast plastic sculpture is the evidence of this ongoing learning process as well as a prompt for considering material lifecycles. We may, for example, be repulsed by the moldy surface of the bioplastic as it slowly degrades even if it is entirely non-toxic and can safely return to our food supply system. On the other hand, the shiny, crisp and clean sheets of acrylic formwork may be perceived as attractive, but could easily end up in a landfill. In this way the material properties in Protoplastic prompt further questions about consumption, waste, time as well as the broader ecologies within which design production is inevitably situated. What would it mean, for example, to assume permanent ownership of every piece of petro-plastic that we consume rather than releasing it for disposal? How might we continue to reposition the issue of waste as a part of the design process? What if food supply and construction material industries were integrated into an interdependent system?  

The six acrylic pieces were displayed on custom-made concrete and wool felt bases, while the bioplastic sculpture was suspended from the ceiling on tensioned stainless steel cables. The material palette of white acrylic and rough concrete references the dominant finishes in the gallery, a former coal storage room in an industrial building. Following the month-long exhibition, the bioplastic sculpture was composted at an organic farm in Arkansas, while the acrylic panels were acquired by a private art collector for their permanent collection.


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