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Green Is The New Black

#PLASTIKOPHOBIA: How Two Artists Turned 18,000 Plastic Cups Into Art

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PLASTIKOPHOBIA (noun) / pronounced pla:ˈstɪkəʊˈfəʊbɪə: an extreme fear of or aversion to the use of plastic

Last week, art activist and viral sensation Benjamin Von Wong, together with the High Commission of Canada, local impact strategist Laura Francois and fabricator Joshua Goh, debuted an art installation inspired by the growing levels of plastic pollution taking over our oceans.


Aptly titled PLASTIKOPHOBIA, the exhibit features over 18,000 plastic cups collected in one day in Singapore, and runs from now until April 18th at the Sustainable Singapore Gallery at Marina Barrage. We wanted to understand the meaning behind the art, the challenges of creating something so large and what the artists hope to achieve.



The exhibit…

The exhibition, conceptualized by both Von Wong and Laura Francois with the help of almost 100 volunteers over 10 days, depicts the scale and severity of the problem and is made up of two elements. The first is an immersive and interactive 3D installation arranged in a way meant to evoke feelings of PLASTIKOPHOBIA by drawing attention to take away culture in Singapore — it’s made up of around 18,000 used plastic cups that were recovered from 26 Hawker centers (local food stalls) in Singapore in one day. The second segment is a photography exhibit featuring several series of Von Wong’s environmental photography work, with titles like Mermaids Hate Plastic, Truckload of Plastic, and Strawpocalypse.


The strategy…

Did you know that 91% of plastics aren’t recycled? Just because something is put into the recycling bin, doesn’t mean that it’s getting recycled. The team behind PLASTIKOPHOBIA have found that the best solution, when possible, is to become plastikophobic — or simply to avoid using plastics when possible. “We believe that deep down, everyone is worried about single-use plastics – they just may not have the words to describe it,” said both artists. “Though unconventional, we hope that this art exhibit helps us all become a little more… Plastikophobic.” To attract attention to this, they use art and look to provide a potential solution with a study.


The initiative…

Apart from raising awareness about ocean plastic pollution, the PLASTIKOPHOBIA exhibit is also a call to action with a simple message: reduce plastic consumption and move toward a zero-waste future. The initiative is also the first large-scale international collaboration by the Sustainable Singapore Gallery and is being held in alignment with Singapore’s Year Toward Zero Waste, and World Wildlife Day, for which the 2019 theme is, ‘Life below water: for people and planet’.



The questions and answers…

Green Is The New Black leading lady Stephanie Dickson sat down with Benjamin and Laura last week for a panel discussion on the project. See highlights from their chat below.


GITNB: Where did the inspiration come from creating this art piece?

Benjamin:  While talking to Laura about different social impact issues in Singapore, she mentioned that plastic cups were actually a pretty big problem here. And, it seemed like one of those materials that also be really easy to build something out of but also clean. So, say plastic bags that are dirty would be really hard to clean, but plastic cups would make for really great building blocks. I think it was more so functional and utilitarian that was locally relevant. Then, transforming that into an experience based on the materials that we had.

Laura: We also knew that everyone in Singapore would recognize a Hawker Centre plastic cup. It’s one of those things you see so often. It was just a really great material to use.


GITNB: Why do you care about the planet and why do you care about plastic waste? This is a big thing, but why are you guys passionate about these issues?

Laura: You can talk about waste in so many different ways. Plastics are a really interesting medium because plastic in itself is not an evil thing. It’s actually a really important material; it’s a brilliant invention. We kind of coined it as this evil thing that we should all be refrained from using. So, what we really want to do is kind of shine light on the issue and talk about its shades of grey. And, that for Singapore we only recycle six per cent of plastics, so what happens with the rest? It was really to talk about that part of the conversation. So, why care about plastics? It’s because we have to think of an easier way to balance out the good that plastic can give us and also the fact that it needs to come back into our economy. There has to be some kind of circular cycle to what plastics can offer us.


GITNB: What are the biggest challenges when doing something like this?

Laura: How many challenges can we talk about? In this specific case, how do we collect this many cups? Like, we don’t have a car. We have to go around and wait at a Hawker Center – there was a lot about the logistics of doing it. How can we bring in, partners like the NEA – who could really help us out? It was also just a matter of, for me, how do you overcome the challenge of doing something really great that’s representative but also not have too much negative impact while you’re doing this. Things like washing the cups; I was tracking how much water we were using washing these cups. You have to think about everything because you’re trying to create something that has a story to it. And, that’s the part of the story. That’s the biggest challenge to me. There are lots of other challenges like time constraints and where are we going to put this thing. Where is it going to go next?

Benjamin: This is one big problem we’re trying to tackle and in order to solve that problem there are just a ton of little problems. Every time you solve a new problem, there are more that pop up. I think the nature of it is that if you are truly driven by creating the best work possible, once you solve things you add more layers to it because now there’s an opportunity to add depth to it. It never actually stops, you just create more problems along the way.


GITNB: What about once it goes live on social and in the digital world, and the feedback you get there? How is that process?

Laura: Well, okay. Haters love to hate. No, (laughs) I think what is interesting when it goes live is that people in the environmental space, we love to comment and criticize other people’s environmental projects a lot of the time. And, it’s interesting because the more you try to fight a cause then the more you get into the nitty-gritty of how well are you fighting it and how impactful it really is. And, you can do that for everything and anything; and you can debate absolutely everything. I think what’s interesting for me is sitting back, taking a deep breath and pressing publish – then waiting for that wave. That’s also super important because that kind of shows us what we need to think about next time. We thought about things in this installation that we would never have thought of next time and I think that’s really important.

Benjamin: Yeah. I can already tell you what the negative comments are going to be.

Laura: Yeah, we kind of have a list.

Benjamin: You can already map that out. You try to mitigate for them by pre-answering the questions, but they’re going to come anyway because people don’t bother watching before criticizing. Which is fine, at the end of the day the people who are criticizing you weren’t going to get converted in the first place. So, don’t get all antsy about that. What about the kids that have been transformed from the experience. What about the parents or the teachers. What about all the press that it gets. The negative things are going to flow no matter what and there is something to learn from it. It is good, it is useful, it does help you grow. But that does not dictate the success or failure of the project.


GITNB: That was beautifully said, by both of you. What is one little green step that people can take in their daily lives?

Benjamin: BYOC

Laura: Bring Your Own Cup! Please, bring your own cup

Benjamin: I have to bring three.

Laura: He brings three cups. One for coffee.

Benjamin: One for coffee, one for juice, one for water. I don’t like to mix them.

Laura: For strange people, bring three cups. For normal folk, just bring a cup. It’s really not that hard.


Visit #PLASTIKOPHOBIA until April 18th 2019 at the Sustainable Singapore Gallery at Marina Barrage and join the conversation online.

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Olivia is a bon vivant with an insatiable appetite for...everything. Upon being horrified at the amount of rubbish she produced in a single day, her journey towards finding a better balance between being extravagant yet sustainable began. Like most obsessions, down the rabbit hole she went and it wasn’t long before she decided to shift her sustainable preachings from Friday nights after too much wine to every day at Green Is The New Black. Olivia is still trying to figure all this ‘the end of the world’ stuff out, so she is keepin’ it real, one super small #LittleGreenStep at a time. Be like Olivia.