Dead plants wrapped in plastic.
I have a sketch on my work table, made earlier this year. I was thinking about flying at the time, if I remember correctly. There are pale cotton threads, thin strings that connect to each other in a somewhat disorderly tangle. They hold suspended the fragile forms of dried-up sage leaves and lemongrass stalks. Four bent wires stuck into a scrap of wood anchor the floating strands. I didn’t plan or ponder this one so much, it was made quickly and roughly but I like to look at it. It reminds me of something important, though I can’t explain what exactly. If I knock against the table the leaves tremble and shiver. If I sigh they drift a little through the air. I found the herbs in a white plastic bag in the fridge at school. Someone had abandoned them over the holidays. It’s always a bit of a risk to explore the forgotten contents of a fridge, especially one used by so many. I approached it with caution and curiosity. Through the bag I saw the pale yellow of a dehydrated lemon and some soft green shades. When I opened the bag a faint, refrigerated scent of sage and citrus was released, the full strength of their perfume dampened by the cold. Dead plants wrapped in plastic. I considered it a lucky find.
When I think about plastic and the bag in the fridge, I remember a comment made by a guest lecturer during a recent studio visit, “But of course plastic is made of tiny dead animals.” It was the way she said it that stuck in my head, a simple reiteration of a fact. There were strings of plastic hanging from my studio walls at the time and after she left I felt that if I looked closely enough I would see the tiny plankton swimming on their surfaces. I envisioned a plastic bag tumbling in the wind, becoming a danse macabre of the fossil era. A darkly beautiful floating mass of deceased sea creatures.
Now a work by Maggie Madden comes to mind, A Great Expanse, 2014. In this piece Madden uses plastic bags, biodegradable bags, bubblewrap, scotch tape, brown tape and wood. I visited an exhibition of Madden’s work in the Limerick City Gallery of Art a couple of years ago and I found it beautiful but slightly troubling. Beautiful, I thought because of the colours, the delicacy and the soft movement of air that the bags revealed. Troubling because I felt like there was no criticism voiced in relation to this harmful material and it bothered me. Of course it wasn’t the point of the piece and I nod to Madden’s use of found and recycled materials, I suppose it reminded me of a reluctance I have to use certain materials in my own work and the question of foregrounding these choices and their associations or not. An ongoing internal debate.
A Great Expanse Maggie Madden Photo: David Monahan
Cáit Ní Dhuinnín studies Time and Space Arts in Kuvataideakatemia. This blog documents her thoughts and processes during the preparatory period for the Kuvan Kevät exhibition.