The proliferation of the use of plastics to create the convenience and disposability that has fuelled our consumer society has made it hard to see this material family as a friend to the environment and animal life. However, by imitating animal-derived products, plastics have had a positive impact on the conservation and use of both wild and farmed creatures.
When Alexander Parkes invented Parkesine, the first man-made plastic, in the 1860s, he introduced to the world a material group that had no intrinsic form, colour, or texture. This lack of constraint has enabled designers and manufacturers to replicate precious and expensive natural materials such as ivory, tortoiseshell, and silk. By both looking and feeling like the ‘real’ thing, plastics have been used to revolutionise design across many disciplines, and have contributed to the protection of endangered species, such as elephants and turtles, the reduction of the use of skins and furs, now widely acknowledged as unnecessary and cruel industries, and played a key role in conserving resources such as energy and water. These activities help in the work towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15; to protect life below water, as well as that on land.
Friend and faux explores the historical and contemporary use of plastics materials to replace animal products. This usage may be for economic or environmental purposes, either in pursuit of a more humane or cheaper option to natural materials.
Warning: This exhibition contains objects and descriptions which some may find distressing.