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Taigh Chearsabhagh arts centre in Lochmaddy is presenting the exhibition called Think Plastic: Materials and Making to engage audiences in a dialogue about our over-reliance on ubiquitous plastic.

As part of programming around the climate crisis in the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow in November, Taigh Chearsabhagh is hosting this unique exhibition curated by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. it runs from tomorrow (Saturday 12 June) to Saturday 28 August.

The show combines art and science to provoke thought about plastic consumerism and how our choices impact on the global climate emergency and biodiversity crisis we face today.

Through the exhibition, and associated public engagement programme, they will invite audiences to consider adjusting their own choices to minimise the impact on the environment by valuing plastic and changing the disposable attitude towards it.

The Message in a Bottle project, part of the engagement programme, will invite people, on these islands and beyond, to salvage a plastic drinks bottle from the shore, write a message about the climate crisis addressed to politicians and polluters to go in the bottle, film themselves doing it and send it to us for inclusion in a multimedia installation to take place at COP26 in November.

Over two years ago, when ceramists Lorna Fraser and Carol Sinclair decided to look at the environmental impact of porcelain usage and question if alternative, less environmentally damaging alternatives were available, they soon started to engage other specialists in an exciting new project.

Together Lorna and Carol collaborated with fellow artists Fiona Hutchison, Fiona Pilgrim and Carla Edwards, along with scientists including RBGE’s tropical taxonomist Dr Peter Wilkie, to create the exhibition which through works of art, jewellery and contemplation of plastic in our everyday lives, presents it as a valuable and often misunderstood product.

Fiona Pilgrim is an artist interested in the material choices artists make and Carla Edwards is a jeweller already using plastic resins in her work. Tapestry weaver Fiona Hutchison is a keen sailor who observes how plastics impact on the seas around us. Lorna Fraser is a ceramic artist whose hand-built porcelain work is inspired by the botanical world. In particular, her work is inspired by the huge collection of plant, carpological and spirit specimens held in RBGE’s Herbarium.  Carol Sinclair is a ceramic artist making work to stimulate conversations and encourage contemplation.

With a small initial grant from Interface, the group worked with Professor Mike Shaver of the University of Edinburgh Green Materials Laboratory and his students Hatti Chisnall and Emily Macdonald.

Peter Wilkie explained: “I got involved with the exhibition through my research on tropical tree family Sapotaceae and in particular Palaquium gutta, which produces a brilliant white latex, gutta percha, widely recognised as one of the first natural plastics and a precursor to synthetic alternatives.

“With financial help from the Friends of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, some new and sustainably produced gutta blocks were purchased from the Tjipetir Plantation in Indonesia and they have been used by Lorna and Carol to form part of the exhibition. Their work encourages us to think about the production, degradation and sustainable use of plastic and how our choices can impact on the climate emergency and biodiversity crises we face today.’’

At a time of new awareness surrounding the interdependence of the health of people, the environment and economies, Project Producer Amy Porteous said it is important the exhibition has an opportunity to reach as many visitors as possible. She explained: “At the time of its inception, this exhibition felt necessary but that urgency has multiplied tenfold. COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on how we value plastic. Governments around the world have delayed or backtracked on policies to reduce plastic consumption, and single-use plastic – in the form of PPE and packaging – has skyrocketed. 

“Simultaneously, RBGE has been awarded Outset Contemporary Art Fund’s Transformative Grant to create Climate House – ‘an institute for ecology at the edge’. At the heart of this three-year project lie the principles of collaboration, experimentation, and the power of fostering interactions between art and science – all of which chimes with Think Plastic.’’

Think Plastic Materials and Making is a touring exhibition from The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh