Noun / Extreme fear of or aversion to the use of plastic.
This was the title of the project, the theme of the exhibition. Sponsored by High Commission of Canada and City Developments Limited, Canadian photographer Benjamin Von Wong teamed up with Laura Francois and Imaginator Studio to create this art installation in conjunction of Singapore’s Year Toward Zero Waste.
I got to know about Benjamin’s work few years back, I remembered the first image that caught my attention was “Salvation”, the picture with a tattooed man breathing fire out of his mouth. Since then, I started to follow his work. The storm chasing series was refreshing to me, and then followed by a series of environment related project, such as Shark Shepherd, Mad Max meets Trump’s America, Mermaids Hate Plastic, Rethink Recycle Revive, Truckload of Plastics, and most recently, Strawpocalypse.
Globally, less than 10% of plastics are recycled.
Next, Plastikophobia. When I found out that Benjamin will be in Singapore to carry out his next project and requires volunteers to help out, I signed myself up to be one of the volunteers in bringing this project to life. After a few communications and simple briefing sessions through Facebook group, the storyboard was ready and it’s time to kickstart. The whole project was divided into a few phases: plastic cups collection, plastic cups cleaning, structure and wooden frame fabrication, installation of plastic cups on the structure and installation of lightings. I was involved in the plastic cups cleaning and installation phase for most. It has been an intense work and race against the time to ensure everything will be ready for the launch on 7 March 2019.
Cup collections started earlier by other volunteers, searching through food courts and eateries. We managed to get some help from local authorities and food courts management. There were of course push-backs from people to assist in providing or allowing us to collect the cups. Nevertheless, we managed to get all the cups we needed to build the installation. Altogether we have collected 18,000 cups from 26 different food courts.
Next, we brought the dirty cups back to workshop at Bukit Batok and had them cleaned and rinsed. Meanwhile, Benjamin and Joshua Goh from Imaginator Studio worked on the final design of the installation. Cups were all cleaned in two days after the massive effort by all volunteers.
I wasn’t involved in the next phase where the design was finalised and wooden frames were constructed to house the cups. The general concept was to create a cavern that will lead you in and give you a sense of impact that you are being crushed by the plastic cups. Hence, structures were made in various size and width in order to provide the sense of compression.
Once the structures were done, cups started to be glued on top of it. When the base layer was done, the structures were transported to Sustainable Singapore Gallery at Marina Barrage for final installation and completion.
During this phase, I was managed to join back the team and continued on to complete the whole art installation. This includes sticking additional layers of cups on top of the base layer to create volume, routing the LED lights and some final adjustment to the whole art installation. After much sweat, blood and tears, finally the installation was completed on 3 March 2019 and the promo shoot was able to be scheduled and done on the next day. The official opening was held on 7 March 2019, hence there were a few days to run some final checks on the lightings and structures.
There were a lot of ups and downs throughout the whole span of project. There were times when we were off schedule and felt panic, there were times when we had so much fun chatting and discussing on the project concept, and there were times when things just went wrong and everyone started to pull whatever resources they have in order to get things moving again. It’s not an easy task to be commissioned for a photography and art assignment like this, and Benjamin has managed to keep his coolness and delivered the final result.
Over 1,500 cups were used in a day at a food court. More than half of them were not even take-aways.
That’s the statistic. Personally I tried not to order drinks outside, as I know most of the time they will serve you with single-use plastic cups. Most of the time I will just order hot drinks instead. Hence, this project really resonates with me and I really hope that the message we are trying to bring across is clear. One of the struggle we talked about during the project was that “educational” exhibition will be too boring, that’s the reason why Benjamin is fusing art into his message. However, we do know that it might dilute the true message behind.
“It’s always a struggle to strike the balance, and sadly there isn’t an answer to that at the moment.” Benjamin shared his thought during our final meet up which celebrates the completion of the project. But that doesn’t stop him from trying and creating more arts and photographs. Hopefully, one day people will understand the effort he has put in and appreciate it. “When you really think about it, it’s funny how we can turn such deadly things into something so beautiful. How ironic it is. Hopefully viewers can understand the message behind and try to change their behaviour little by little.”
It was a really fascinating experience for me to be part of this project, and I do learned a lot throughout the process. I feel honoured to be able to be part of the volunteers and made this happened. Hopefully this project will be able to raise awareness on the issues of over reliance on single-use plastic in our current world. If you want to know more about this project and take a look at the art installation itself, feel free to make your way to Sustainable Singapore Gallery, Marina Barrage, Singapore. I hope you will enjoy the Plastikophobia installation together with exhibition of other works from Benjamin within the gallery. The exhibition will run from 7 March 2019 until 18 April 2019, admission is free.