Plastic: Remaking Our World
Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, DE
26.03. – 04.09.2022
Precious Plastic, shredded plastic, Courtesy of Precious Plastic
Plastics have shaped our daily lives like no other material: from packaging to footwear, from household goods to furniture, from automobiles to architecture. A symbol of carefree consumerism and revolutionary innovation, plastics have spurred the imagination of designers and architects for decades. Today, the dramatic consequences of the plastic boom have become obvious and plastics have lost their utopian appeal. The exhibition »Plastic: Remaking Our World« at the Vitra Design Museum examines the history and future of this controversial material: from its meteoric rise in the twentieth century to its environmental impact and to cutting-edge solutions for a more sustainable use of plastic. Exhibits include rarities from the dawn of the plastic age and objects of the pop era as well as numerous contemporary designs and projects ranging from efforts to clean up rivers and oceans to smart concepts for waste reduction and recycling through to bioplastics made from algae and mycelium.
The exhibition begins with a large-scale video installation spotlighting the conflicts linked to the production and use of plastic. Timeless images of unspoilt nature are juxtaposed with film documents from one hundred years of plastic industry that convey the ambiguous fascination of increasingly fast-paced automated production at rapidly diminishing costs. The formation of fossil resources such as coal and oil took more than two hundred million years, while the synthetic materials made from them needed little more than a century to become a problem of planetary scale.
The second part of the exhibition describes the evolution and the shifting perceptions of plastics from their beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century to their global omnipresence today. The first plastic materials were plant- or animal-based: for centuries, horn and tortoiseshell were used to create drinking vessels and to embellish cutlery. Gutta-percha, a material used for decorative objects and insulation of underwater telegraph cables, was made from the latex of gutta-percha trees. The invention of celluloid by John Wesley Hyatt in the 1860s was triggered by the search to find a replacement for ivory in the production of billiard balls. In 1907, Leo Baekeland invented the first plastic made of purely synthetic components and named it Bakelite. It was hailed as the material of infinite uses. Being nonconductive, Bakelite was soon used for light switches, wall sockets, or radio sets and played a central role in the electrification of everyday life.
MycoTEX in collaboration with Karin Vlug, MycoTEX seamless jacket; Photo: Jeroen Dietz
D-79576 Weil am Rhein