Plastics and Art — No Throwaway Messages Here


In the airy atrium of the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison for several weekends in late 2019, dozens of people participated in the museum’s three outreach events coupled with their exhibition Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials.

For Sea Grant’s Anne Moser, the events—known as Art Spins—were a chance to marry two of her favorite themes of art and science, including the science of plastics.

“Similar to the way the exhibition had been organized around the past, the present and the future of plastic as a material, so is the science of plastic pollution in our waters,” she said.

Moser is the senior special librarian for the Wisconsin Water Library, and she leads Sea Grant’s education efforts with colleague Ginny Carlton. The education offered at the Art Spins focused on topics such as “mosaic,” which explored the chemistry of plastics. The pair collaborated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to create stations that explored plastic as a material in the past, present and a speculative future.

On prior weekends, Art Spin participants explored plastic in fashion by examining microfibers under microscopes and plastic as a waste in waters by playing a game centered on marine debris collection.

Moser and Carlton also felt it was important to prompt action to reduce plastic pollution. They demonstrated shopping alternatives to single-use plastics and offered blank canvas bags along with plenty of fabric markers so creativity could foster the practice of using reusable bags when shopping.

“People are hearing about plastics. They’re worried about their plastic footprint,” Moser said. “People want to understand what the issues are and what alternatives they can choose. The art exhibit and the outreach events gave people inspiration to make some differences in their lives.”