Nine large bales of discarded plastic form the basis of a major new artwork by Robyn Woolston, winner of the Liverpool Art Prize, 2012. Strangers in a Strange Land goes on display at the Walker Art Gallery from 23 March until 23 June 2013.
Exploring the burden of inorganic waste, the installation highlights our relationship with the Earth and its finite resources.
For Robyn, using waste to produce art is not only integral to the overriding message of recycling and responsibility, but also denotes an interesting art history reference. The layout of the bales nod to Carl André’s infamous Equivalent VIII (1966), a sculpture created from 120 firebricks. Like André’s bricks the bales are imbued with a double-meaning; they are waste yet embody value, they have been both discarded and harvested.
At first glance the nine bales of plastic waste clash with the classic features of the Victorian gallery, but closer inspection reveals the artist’s efforts to harmonize the brutish structures with their elegant surroundings. By walking through and around the bales visitors mirror the patterns directly above them of the ornate cornices and coving of the ceiling.
As winner of the Liverpool Art Prize 2012, exhibiting at the Walker Art Gallery is part of Robyn’s award. Director of Art Galleries, Sandra Penketh said: “We’re very excited to be showing Robyn’s dynamic and thought-provoking work. We have eagerly anticipated her response to the Walker and its collection, and Strangers in a Strange Land lives up to our expectations. The confrontational, yet moving piece demonstrates what a worthy winner Robyn was of the Prize.”
Photographs also feature within the installation. There are large colourful images of the bales as well as a stark image, taken at a natural burial ground in South Warwickshire, where Robyn’s mother was buried. What appears to be a flawless solution; an ecological burial which returns the body to the earth, is contaminated by man-made materials amongst the decaying floral tributes.
Another element of the artwork is the artist’s book Waste. Product. Istanbul. Made up of an emotive set of photographs taken during a residency in Istanbul in 2012, it documents the waste ‘processes’ Robyn observed; from the ‘Papermen’, unofficial collectors, sorters and recyclers of the city’s waste, to the stray dogs, micro-chipped in an effort to bring a sense of order to these ‘waste’ animals.
The final strand of the installation is the 1889 painting, Strangers in a Strange Land by Albert Starling, from the Walker’s own collection, which lends the piece its title. The sentimental image of refugee children, represents the same people living on the fringes of society visible in Robyn’s work.
Artist, Robyn Woolston said: “Waste materials are abundantly available because of the way in which we consume. Strangers in a Strange Land offers a way to reassess the value of these materials so as to understand just how much we value their inherent possibilities.”
Robyn sourced the 400kg bales with the help of Liverpool-based Centriforce Products, the UK’s largest independent recycler of plastic waste into end-use products. Managing Director, Simon Carroll said: ”As a local company committed to reducing the amount of plastic waste that goes to landfill or is exported, we were delighted to partner with Robyn on this project. Robyn is making a striking statement that will make many stop and think again about the issues surrounding plastics recycling.”