New Westminster Residency Blog

A collection of thoughts and photos to document the process of working as an artist in residence for the city of New Wesminster's solid waste and recycling program.

Canada Day Installation

"Our Roots +or- Our Plastic = Our Legacy" .

Medium: -Existing maple tree 🙏🏽
-Plastic bags gathered from the New Westminster Recycling Depot.
-Maple Leaf symbols from thrown-out packaging and litter.

Amongst other meanings, the maple leaf that adorns the Canadian flag represents our great natural heritage by symbolizing the maple trees found in every province across Canada. This piece asks us to look at the maple leaf on our flag as a literal leaf from a maple tree. A maple leaf is designed by nature to decompose and provide nutrients for future generations of life. However, we also find maple leaves adorning the plastic bags that we use every day, and these plastics will not break down and harbor new life. Currently, it is estimated that people in Vancouver dispose of 2 million plastic bags each week. This daily mass-consumption of single-use plastics is harming the natural wonder that our national symbol represents.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to create an artwork for New Westminster's annual Canada Day celebration in Queen's Park. It is a lovely, intimate community gathering with family events, music, and speeches by city members.  Initially this project started from the "seed" idea of doing a sculpture with all of the Maple Leaf symbols I have been collecting from litter and packaging over the past few months. I knew there could be a richness in meaning with these, but it was not until I had a deadline that I started developing the real concept behind this piece. I learned that my creative work process is slow to come to this concrete nugget of a concept, and that I need to trust my initial instinct while pushing myself to experiment with real development of the materials in front of me. It is very easy for me to sit back and twiddle my thumbs until I feel the concept is fully flushed-out. But a sculptural concept is never fully developed until there is materiality behind it too. The work with materiality will always help push the theory in new and more solid directions. This piece started with sketches of the tree that I chose in Queen's Park, and I did sketches over the tree to see what kind of compositions I could create with plastic bags that would give them meaning of being contradictory or invasive to the existing tree. Roots were a go-to concept that made sense to me in the way that they nourish the tree, and give it foundation, and are something that I could make to fill-out the body of this composition, since it would have to be large. Even though I braided hundreds of plastic bags into long roots that got thicker as they traveled in towards the tree, once the piece was set up I felt like I had barely made enough to pull-of the composition. The roots toward the center of the tree trunk could have been much thicker and much more invasive feeling. If I had more time I would like to have tried out more compositions where the squiggles of the roots were more calculated into geometric shapes or more densely squiggly. As for the root that turns into a banner and goes up the tree- part of me feels that it looks too much like an actual holiday banner so it is taken-for granted by the viewer. All of those words were cut out of plastic shopping bags and painstakingly adhered to the braided root. It ends in a bunch of plastic maple leaves, as to try to blend in with the leaves of the actual tree. I think this part could have been more extensively leafy, but I underestimated the amount of leaves I would need to fill it out!

Overall, I am quite happy with this piece. I have never done artwork with plastic bags as a medium, and I realized there is a lot of great texture and diversity that can come from them, so I will keep working with them in the future. I am extremely thankful to the city officials who helped and encouraged me to be a part of this event, even though this piece is, as my friend Sandra put it, "actually very sad."

Molly Marineau