Robyn Woolston is placing nine giant bails of plastic waste in The Walker and calling it art, she tells Laura Davis
IF YOU peer out of the window of a Merseyrail train as it starts to slow into Sandhills Station, you can see them – giant bails of plastic bags tied together ready for recycling.
Viewed from afar they are almost pretty – their frayed edges catching in the wind like wisps of cloud, their multi colours bright against the grey concrete floor of the yard.
This is Centriforce, a pioneer in plastic recycling set up 30 years ago to reduce our detrimental impact on the environment and make some money along the way.
At its six-acre site on Derby Road, waste products are turned into plastic board that has numerous uses, from signage to chicken coops. Brazenose College in Oxford covered its grounds in more than 5,000 sq ft of Centriforce’s heavy duty Stokboard in 2010 to protect them during its 84-week restoration project.
This is also where all plastic waste created nationally by John Lewis and Waitrose comes to be recycled.
Nine giant bales will have to wait for their reincarnation into plastic board, however, as they are being borrowed by Liverpool-based artist Robyn Woolston.
From this weekend, visitors to the Walker Art Gallery will be able to see them displayed in alongside its Victorian collections – their artificiality clashing with the sumptuous oil paintings.
However, their position on the floor will mirror the 3x3 pattern of plasterwork and gold leaf on the ceiling above where they are placed.
“I’m saying to people ‘until we value these bails as much as we value the surrounding art work, we’re not going to close the loop environmentally’,” says Woolston, 37.
“We’re not going to revere both the material and the affect we’re having on the world.”
A work from the Walker’s own collection, Strangers in a Strange Land, painted by Albert Starling in 1889, gives Woolston’s new installation its name.
Alongside this and the bails of plastic waste, she will show photographs including one of a compost heap of flowers at the natural burial ground where her mother lies: “What utterly struck me is that, even in a space as environmentally friendly as that, they still have to put processes in place to dispose of the flowers and the bouquets.”
Woolston’s artists book work, based on a residency in Istanbul, will also be shown. As well as an exploration of the city’s waste disposal system, it features photographs of stray dogs.
“All of the stray dogs in the city are vaccinated and tagged so although they are essentially waste because they’re stray, they are also looked after. Different shops adopt different animals and they’ll put their bowls out,” says Woolston.
“In some respects the same thing happens with the waste. It’s an unregulated industry but there are waste collection points dotted all over the city and ‘papermen’ go into the municipal bins and take out the waste to sort it themselves.”
Woolston became interested in green causes in her late-teens when an art history teacher on her foundation course handed her an article from the environmental magazine Resurgence.