Provocative Plastics

24 June 2020

Sparkling chair

There’s always work to be done if you work in a museum. One of the things I love about a museum career is its variety – researching the collection, working out how to add to it effectively, telling stories about it, talking to people who are interested in its subject area and making sure it’s safe. It has been intriguing to find that in lockdown we have been able to do most of our work from home. Communication with the museum’s audience has been different but perhaps equally effective: our Curator did a webinar with an attendance of 88 people, much larger than we would have got had she been speaking in the museum. There are though some queries we can’t answer without looking at the objects themselves. That provides a welcome reminder that they constitute the museum’s heart and that physical contact with them is essential.

Kate Ward tote

Shortly before lockdown came into force Palgrave Macmillan gave us a contract for the book, Provocative plastics: their value in design and material culture with a deadline of 1 June. It is the book of the conference held at the Arts University Bournemouth in 2015 and is due to be published this December. We are proud of its international character with contributors form Australia, Brazil, Germany and Norway as well as from closer to home.

It adopts a new approach to exploring plastics’ contribution, good and bad, by focusing on their value from two perspectives: as a medium for making and in societal use. The first explores the multivalent nature of plastics materiality and their impact on creativity through the work of artists, designers and manufacturers. The second explores attitudes to plastics and the different value systems applied to them through current research undertaken by design, materials and socio-cultural historians. Plastics have now been the most used materials group for over 50 years. The book addresses the impact of their abundance on world sustainability and elucidates ways in which they can and must be part of the solution.

Banana Leaf oval lid

As the book’s editor, I feel very lucky. There was so much to do to meet the deadline that I was bound to be in my personal lockdown whatever was happening in the wider world. It gave me something to focus on when otherwise life could have been much tougher. The wonderful weather helped but, as I emerge from the tunnel I have been in and relax with the eternal task of the index, I am sorry that it has taken to being dull and rainy although when it does rain I am very grateful on behalf of my garden.

A recent game has been choosing an image for the cover. All the MoDiP team and some of our families joined in with rating potential images. There are three frontrunners – one represents a beach ball in the form of a globe on the sea shore; another shows a stack of very obviously orange plastic chairs again on a beach; and the last one shows a collection of watering cans, mainly green but with the odd blue and orange one too. It will be interesting to see what is chosen in the end.

Susan Lambert, Chief Curator, MoDiP