But it actually turns out that microfibers are a much bigger problem. Tiny bits of plastic comes out of our synthetic clothing with every wash, and since it can't easily be filtered out of our waste water, it's getting in everything, including the fish we like to eat. So this is where the sheep come in. Sheep are a natural source of clothing fibres, so I made these out of regular air-dry clay as a contrast to the plastic Fimo clay... let's ignore the fact that I had to seal the air-dry clay with acrylic paint and just pretend it's all natural lol. Or is that a nice little irony that speaks to the fact that our plastic is contaminating just about all aspects of nature?
Before we get into all the other ways you could interpret this piece, have some pictures! Trying to avoid too much text too early haha. Here's how the work progressed...
MAD air dry clay!
How the sheep looked when completely naked, not even any paint, on their journey upstairs to my studio space at the uni:
I consider this to be the good one:
...and this is the wonky one, which I did second and which took longer, so sometimes I feel like the whole "practice makes perfect" doesn't always work out lol:
Next up, the goddamn beads! I always think Fimo is gonna be great... until I have to work with it! Nowhere around me seems to have mix quick, I should probably get some online, but yeah, on its own, Fimo is hard as hell. And I'm using the "soft" variety! It probably felt even worse after the air dry clay which is sooooo nice to work with and really easy on the hands. I had to do two batches of Fimo beads on two separate days, and the second day I just gave in and bought some kids Fimo to mix in, and also sprayed a bit of water on it to soften it up. Water works on Fimo, apparently because it's mineral based, and I'm really glad! It just gets a bit sticky for a while. No biggie though. Have some Fimo pics.
After this, I just painted the clay with white acrylic gesso, and then later came in with a hot glue gun to stick on the Fimo. This was a fellow student's suggestion, after I had trouble finding the right glue to use. So the wonky sheep has a test ball of Fimo on its back, which is actually from some experiments I did last semester with glow-in-the-dark Fimo mixed in. I kinda like it like that though, so I'll probably present both sheep.
Here are some more angles of the finished work:
As for what it all represents, beyond the backstory I've outlined... you can interpret it however you want, but here are some things I've thought about as I've made it:
- A comparison of natural fibres to synthetic fibres and the complexities of the environmental impact - on the one hand, plastics getting everywhere sucks, but on the other, natural fibres tend to take more water and energy to produce while also wearing out faster and not being able to easily produce the same bright colours...
- A comment on plastics getting in our food sources, since sheep are used for clothing and food. Sure, fish are the most immediate problem, but things have a habit of spreading through the food chain. It also turns out that even if it were practical to filter microfibers out at the waste treatment plant, it'd just end up in the sludge that often gets used for fertiliser, which would cause it to end up in plants, and sheep eat plants, and you get the idea now.
- A comment on the fashion industry, which is guilty of making a lot of low-quality fibres that are more likely to shed microfibers in the wash. The main sheep has its wool made of my Fimo beads, but it also looks a bit like a coat, and we also talk of "sheeple" who blindly follow trends, so yeah, fashion.
- A pro-GMO statement. Okay so my fellow art students are more likely to see it as anti-GMO or be horrified by my attachment to science over "natural" and "organic", but that nonsense aside, it occurs to me that GMO might be one possible solution to this problem. If we could breed sheep or grow cotton etc that produces more durable and colourful fibres with less water and energy... it won't completely fix the problem, but it'd be a start, and could help steer us away from relying so heavily on plastic. Maybe.
- A comment on colonialism? I only mention this one because of my teacher though. I would never think of this myself, it's not something I spend a lot of time on. But sheep are an introduced species, and you could argue that if whites never came to Australia with their sheep and their plastic, the environment here would be a lot better off. The rest of the world would still be a mess though.
- A general awareness project, that gets the audience to think about how they might be able to avoid contributing to the problem. There are people who've made filters for their washing machines, and there are bags you can put your clothes in to hopefully catch the plastic, but I gather these measures still have their issues. Though the main problem really is that we haven't had the same fuss about microfibers in our society as we've had with microbeads. Maybe an art project like this could help bring it into the public consciousness. If they bother to read what it's about, since I haven't made it an overly obvious cliché...
Some extra symbolic things:
- My teacher didn't want me to glue the beads all the way up the sheep's neck, but I did it anyway. He just wanted me to make it look like a blanket, but I prefer the feeling of the plastic balls coming up around the neck because, apart from looking a bit more sheep-like, it also gives the feeling of choking. Plastic is choking the environment right? So it's choking my sheep too.
- What does it mean to present both the full sheep and the wonky test sheep? Well, the wonky one is looking to the right slightly, and I could position it to be looking at the main sheep. "Look at what you've become" with a bit of "oh no, now it's happening to me". Or the wonky one could be anticipating its transformation to a more perfect form... Maybe. I dunno, everyone loves that wonky sheep, and it's grown on me, so sentiment might be the real reason! It also gives me an extra element of repetition though, now I have a bunch of spheres as well as two sheep.
There are probably other things I've thought about, but that's all I can think of tonight! What do you guys think of all this? Was a bit of fun to make! But I have no idea what I should do with all my leftover beads now...