Plastic Vanitas, Mariele Neudecker, 2015

29 September 2021
Six years ago, MoDiP hosted an international conference called Provocative Plastics, which took place over two days at the Arts University Bournemouth to explore the past, present and future potential of plastics. At the same time, we had an exhibition of photographs on display in TheGallery by Mariele Neudecker, to compliment the conference: Plastic Vanitas


Plastic Vanitas on display at TheGallery
Image credit: TheGallery

The basic premise of the project was to re-present the MoDiP collection as a series of Vanitas paintings. Vanitas was a specific form of Dutch still-life painting that became increasingly popular in the 17th century. Compositions included objects that carried symbolic meaning, such as a clock representing the passing of time, jewellery indicating wealth and food/wine alluding to pleasure. All of these would build up an overall moral message: the vanities of life are fleeting and, since death is inevitable, we should live our lives in the moment, as fully as possible.


One bay of shelving in the MoDiP store.
Image credit: MoDiP

Mariele had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at MoDiP and discover the collections for herself, removing boxes from the shelves at random and unwrapping the objects within them to see what they were. She became interested by how the objects were actually stored: by material, size and weight (heavy boxes on the bottom of the shelving and lighter ones at the top), in accumulations of objects that often make no intellectual sense.

To explore this further, she decided to ask the MoDiP team to identify potential objects that could represent the symbolism she was looking for. She would then take the entire box that each object was stored in and use all of the other items within (previously unseen by her) to form part of the still-life. The work was created in the Arts University Bournemouth's photographic studios with assistance from a team of students studying BA (Hons) Photography and BA (Hons) Commercial Photography.

In the artist's words:

I wouldn't call myself a photographer. I use photography but it's usually outdoors and photographing what's there, rather than setting up scenes like this. I'm learning loads about lighting etc. It's really fun how each student has their own tricks up their sleeve, which they're happy to share.

Mariele Neudecker


One student, Julio del Castello Vivero, recorded his experience as a time lapse animated film showing the process of the objects being unwrapped, positioned, lit and then photographed (refer below).


Julio del Castello Vivero’s animated film
Image credit:

In total, Neudecker produced 49 photographic artworks that she has subsequently toured around the world. We have a selection on permanent display outside the museum, on the first floor of the AUB Library. Here are two of my favourites:


Still Life with Lemon and Apples - (the contents of Box 653).
Image credit: Mariele Neudecker


Still Life with Thermos jug and Door Handle - (the contents of Box 316).
Image credit: Mariele Neudecker

In remembrance of Leo Gauvain, seen in the image below on the left, smiling (he was always smiling) with Julio del Castello Vivero, myself and Pam Langdown.


Setting out objects in the AUB photography studio.
Image credit: Louise Dennis

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer