Witches knickers and carrier bag theories : thinking through plastic

LEE, Joanne (2015). Witches knickers and carrier bag theories : thinking through plastic. In: Provocative Plastics: Design in Plastics from the Practical to the Philosophical, Arts University Bournemouth, 17 - 18 September 2015. (Unpublished)

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Official URL: http://provocativeplastics.com/


As the conference call makes clear, plastics are frequently characterized in a reductive binary: either they’re beautiful and adaptive or they’re unauthentic and destructive. By contrast, I want to suspend such definitive value judgements a while, and instead sustain a more complex, poetic and critical encounter with this material. In previous artistic-research, produced via issues of an independent serial publication, the Pam Flett Press, I have taken everyday materials and phenomena such as littered chewing gum, or the graffiti that proliferates on urban walls, and used these as matter to think with and through. I seek to go beyond sterile and repetitive binaries, into a richer and more complicated understanding of our relationship with seemingly ordinary stuff. My paper draws on research through practice for Witches’ knickers, a forthcoming edition of the Press, named after the Irish coinage for those carelessly discarded plastic bags caught on trees and fences. This paper holds in tension a series of instances in which plastic carriers feature in art practice, popular music, film, material culture, waste studies and literary theory. It starts from cultural theorist Gay Hawkins having felt strangely moved by her encounters with bags, and her recognition of their complex social life, such that the ‘very ambiguity of uses […] complicates moral rulings […] and condemnations’. Like Hawkins, I want to think through the ‘messiness and ambiguity that makes ethical work experimental, creative, and relational’ in order to expose the possibilities and problematics of this object/material. Examples will include Marguerite Heywood’s paintings of tattered plastic, snagged on the barbed-wire of a Lancashire industrial estate, considered as a species of Baroque drapery; the motif of a plastic bag swirling in the wind, which occurs in scenes from American Beauty and Lost Book Found, and the trees festooned with plastic in Zoe Leonard’s bag + tree or Hilary Jack’s Turquoise Bag in a Tree photographs, which are simultaneously decorated and despoiled. Using the object itself as a means to think through, I will draw upon the figure of the hoarder, never seen without a plastic carrier in which to gather material considered valueless by others, and I will take what writer Ursula K. Le Guin once termed ‘the carrier bag theory of fiction’ in which books are like bags, able to hold words and ideas ‘in particular, powerful relation to one another and to us’ as a model. In both instances, metaphorically and in practice, the bag is thing to think with, and which thinks me; it is a handy container for holding together differently valued, and potentially contradictory ideas about our use of and relationship with plastic. Keywords: plastic bags; waste; litter; thing theory

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Cultural Communication and Computing Research Institute > Art and Design Research Centre
Depositing User: Joanne Lee
Date Deposited: 25 Jul 2016 09:49
Last Modified: 25 Jul 2016 09:49
URI: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/12613

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