Uneasy Beauty - Original, Personal, and Provocative

Uneasy Beauty at the Fuller Craft Museum
Last week, I was 3,000 miles and a world away from today.  Saturday, October 13 was dedicated to my first visit to the Fuller Craft Museum and the opening reception for the exhibition "Uneasy Beauty." The whole day was a rich experience. Why was it worth traveling 3,000 miles? Why even go to an opening reception? 

Uneasy Beauty CoverFirst, true confessions.  I went to this opening because there are too many times when I wonder why I make my artwork.  Perhaps like many artists, I spend so much time alone in my studio, experimenting on yet another vague and uncertain idea . . .  and wondering why should I try so hard or care so much
.  At such times, I can remember this opening and the images of my artwork on a brilliant fuschia wall at the Fuller Craft Museum (above.) The photo of my Black Plastic Gyre Boa-Constrictor was on the cover of the catalog for "Uneasy Beauty" as well. 

Wow!  It does indeed feel good to see this exhibition in person.  And the bonus honor to have my work featured in this way doesn't come that often. So, if and when I find myself at that uncomfortable, uneasy moment working in the studio, struggling, pushing, testing unwilling materials to look like something unexpected, a little shot of memories from the Fuller Craft Museum opening will help me push forward with the challenge.

At the opening events: It was a real treat to see old friends and meet new fellow makers (shown below).

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(left to right) Masako Onodera, Boris Bally, Curator Suzanne Ramljak, Harriete Estel Berman, Holland Houder

 

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Brave 4: Breast Plate, 2013
Boris Bally
gun triggers, gun bolts, and gun barrels, brass shells, stainless cord, 925 silver 26" x 11 1/2" x 2"

Notice that (in the photo above) Boris Bally is wearing his gun triggers necklaces so well with pride and bravado. They echoed the uneasy beauty of his Brave 4: Breast Plate necklace in the exhibition (left.) 

I finished and wore a smaller, special version of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace (above) just in time for the opening.   (It filled 85% of my largest suitcase and was definitely not a carry-on option.)  I can't understand why jewelry artists don't take the chance to wear some amazing examples of their work at openings.  It is sharing your work with an appreciative audience.

 

Uneasy-beauty-erica-spitzer-rasmussen72
Spoiler, 2009

Erica Spitzer Rasmussen
cotton, buttons, handmade paper, human hair
27" x 18" x 9"

 

 

The exhibition "Uneasy Beauty" has become my favorite exhibition in a very long time. Curated by Suzanne Ramljak, she carefully selected the artwork to be original, personal, and provocative. The exhibition overall and the individual artworks always surprised, expanded, shifted one's thoughts addressing diverse, difficult subjects.  But first, you were captivated and drawn in by the beauty of individual objects. 

(I will include a selection of images taken at the Uneasy Beauty exhibition in this post.)

 

 

 

Uneasy-Beauty-Sally-von-Bargen
Elegy by Sally von Bargen
The center brass disc says: "this elegy of truth-these lot treasures - lies brought this lament."

I wish that I could share an image of every artwork in the exhibition. 

Not one artwork was a dud. That in itself is an accomplishment. There are times that you go to a show, and there are pieces that you wonder, "how did that get in?"

Come on, admit it! We've all been to exhibitions where some of the work just does not measure up to the quality of the other art or craft. 

 

 

 

 

 

Uneasy-beauty-Sally-von-bargen-cu
Elegy  (close-up image), 2008
Sally von Bargen
brass, paper, digital photographs, paint
10" x 18" x 4" 

In "Uneasy Beauty" nothing disappoints the viewer either visually or conceptually.  Powerful artwork demanded thoughtful introspection such as Elegy by Sally von Bargen. ( I assume that these are photos of military personnel that have lost their lives, but I have not been able to confirm this.) 

If you can possibly go to this "Uneasy Beauty" exhibition before the closing date of April 21, 2019, I recommend you go out of your way or at least purchase the catalog.  

 

 

Uneasy-beauty-installation-victim-fashion
Uneasy Beauty exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum, Brockton, MA

Another striking aspect of this exhibition was the installation of the artwork.

There were subcategories for the organization of the work in the exhibition. (These same categories organize the artwork in the catalog.) The subcategory titles on the wall really helped with the visual flow of looking at the work. For example, under the Victim Fashion category, Spoiler (shown above) by Erica Spitzer Rasmussen hung on the wall near a pregnancy shaped corset by April Dauscha (left) or bra undergarments by Mimi Smith (below right.)

Uneasy-beauty-mimi-smith
Protector Against Illness: Black Tamoxifen Bra, 1996
Mimi Smith
nylon, lace tamoxifen pills, acrylic paint, satin hanger 16" x 15"




  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another superb example of the thoughtful installation of the artwork was one display case with four different collars by three artists.  White fabric shirt collars by Anika Smulovitz, silver Corporate Collar by Edward Lane McCartney and a worn black fabric Object of Mourning collar by Renee Zettle-Sterling held a close conversation when grouped together in a case.

Uneasey-beauty-collars
White Collar #9                                      Corporate Collar                          Object of Mourning:Impermanence#3
Anika Smulivitz                               Edward Lane McCartney              Renee Zettle-Sterling



Uneasy-beauty-Doug-Bucci-bracelets72
Mellitus Bracelets Installation, 2011
Doug Bucci
Mellitus bracelets, process installation, insulin pump, and Continuous Glucose Monitoring transmitter

There were many more excellent artworks within the exhibition. Doug Bucci's red Mellitus Bracelets Installation was one of my favorites. He doesn't hold back from sharing the personal experience of wearing an insulin pump as the most modern of accessories. What can be more uneasy and challenging than dealing with a life-threatening disease, and the impact of constructive or destructive lifestyle decisions? The presentation of the three red 3-d printed bracelets was very effective both visually and conceptually.  

During the evening events at the Fuller Craft MuseumSuzanne Ramljak gave an insightful slide lecture,....though perhaps a bit long, this slide lecture provided context for the selection of artwork. I love listening to lectures like this. I want to see gears working, the stretch that curator's take to pull together a diverse group of work.

This is a show worth seeing.     

Harriete

 

Uneasy-beauty-Masako-onodera72
My Dear, 2015
Masako Onodera
repurposed fur coat, parts from silver-plated coffeepot, oxidized, thread
12" x 7" x 50"

 

 


Fabulous and heart-stopping news!

Uneasy Beauty Cover

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace Boa shown on a mannequinFabulous and heart-stopping news! That is what I would call it when Curator Suzanne Ramljak told me that they were using a photo (left) of the my Black Plastic Gyre Necklace Boa for the cover of the catalog "Uneasy Beauty" (shown above).
 
How did Suzanne know about this image? Because Suzanne discovered it on an ASK Harriete blog post Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?  
The post covered several of the mannequin shots taken on one of the photo shoot days. Maybe, out of 50 mannequin shots, Philip Cohen and I  had winnowed them down to five images. An exceptionally painful irony was that I usually only buy a few photos of each genre and had not purchased that one image, neither was it sent it to Suzanne Ramljak at an earlier deadline.....so back to my photographer Philip Cohen to buy another image. 

Being featured on the cover of the catalog is good fortune but also at least partially a result of two approaches that any artist can take for their own art or craft.

The first one is diving deep into an idea without reservation or hesitation. Going all out. Making an artwork for an exhibition without compromise is not the same as art or craft made for your customers. I believe it is necessary to put blinder's on and ignore market influences. Consumer tastes can be superficial, trendy, or financially motivated.  In contrast, speaking purely from your own artist's voice amplifies the potential to stretch into uncharted waters. Magnify a vision far beyond "average." Fabricate your dream. Whether this work will sell or not is irrelevant to the artist's vision. 



Black-plastic-braceletWhen Suzanne Ramljak and I were discussing work for this show I showed her a bracelet
(right) made from black plastic waste. I told her that I had dreamed of making a much larger version.  She encouraged this direction, pursue that dream and I  proceeded to make a Black Plastic Necklace Boa that was 26 feet long with my entire force of nature, full blast every available second of the day or night for two months. My family and I had to survive the two months of craziness. I took the deadlines seriously. 

HB61-9089_EmailFileThe other approach is planning the photography. Documentation and vision of the photos, while the artwork is in progress, can really help create a successful photographic image.  The quote from Louis Pasteur always comes to mind for me, "Chance favors the prepared mind."  What are the possible uses for the photo?  Can a close-up, full view, plain white paper background, model or experiment capture the artist's intent?  One photographic approach may be appropriate for a specific situation, and the model shot takes the photography in another direction. 

It is super exciting to have my work on the cover of the catalog. Super thanks to Suzanne Ramjlak who had confidence in my work to invite me to make something unknown for the show. She had unbridled optimism for the artist's vision without restriction. 

Black Plastic Necklace Boa from black plastic trash.The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace Boa will also be on the entry wall of the exhibition (I've been told) but will have to see for myself at the Fuller Craft Museum opening.  If you live near by or will be visiting Boston, I hope you will be able to see this exhibition.

At the Fuller Craft Museum, there will be a related exhibition in another gallery by MassArt students: Discomfort Zone: Fashion and Adornment from MassArt.  During the opening evening, there will be a live model presentation of some of the student works during the event. 

The festivities begin at 4:00 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, with a not-to-be-missed Curatorial Lecture by Suzanne Ramljak! Who doesn't want to peer into the mind of the curator?  I for one can't wait!!! I am traveling 3,000 miles so I can get there really early.  Look for me there.

Harriete

Uneasy Beauty Reception Invitation

     

Harriete  

More Information about the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace can be found on my website.

Previous Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace Boa:
 

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography - More than Documentation?

 


Is Artwork Ever Old? Stitch Care Mend Fold Muse Reach Stress Wear Break Torn Mad and ANGRY!

Is Artwork Ever Old?  An artwork from 20 years ago can still resonate today, perhaps even more so than ever!

Peninsula Museum of Art photographing work installed in the exhibition

I've never considered my earlier work as "old inventory." Spoken clearly with the artist's voice, work made in previous decades can gain more meaning in another time.  This is how I feel about my artwork in the current exhibition at the Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame, CA. The #metoo movement and the Kavanaugh Supreme Court controversy have given this group of artwork from 1996 to 2004 new meaning.

After listening to the entire day to the Judicial hearings I am stressed, worn, torn, mad and angry about the mishandling by the Senate Judiciary committee controlled by old white men exposing their ignorance, incoherence, and insensitivity.   

Philip Cohen photographer at the Peninsula Museum of Art
O.K. back to the artwork...

I knew that the photos of the wall quilt titled, "Stitch Care Mend Fold Muse Reach Stress Wear Break Torn" from 20 years ago were not good enough, so I asked my photographer, Philip Cohen, to take new photos.  I needed new images. The original photographs were taken at the cusp of the digital age and the pixels from early digital images dated the artwork, far more than its theme and content. The master image was even stored on a format that I can't access. Some kind of supergiant mega-disc brand state-of-the-art digital formatting of that time .... that has since vaporized from the face of the earth. 

Philip Cohen testing the lighting exposure
The piece is also difficult to shoot because of its size
 (6 feet x 6 feet), so while it is installed at the Peninsula Museum of Art, this is the perfect time to have new images taken.

Having images taken of older work is not about being stuck in the past. No, not at all. This is about how, with time and experience, my standards have continued to evolve. Even styles of documenting art and craft change over time. New photographs can give this work better documentation for a wider audience and fresh eyes.

Facebook-banner-quilt-full-Phil Cohen-color-test

Digital standards have changed, evolved, improved. This is not unlike the changing social and professional standards since Anita Hill in 1991.  The #metoo movement has changed the standard of what was previously tolerated and survived, to a time of visible controversy and action.

Close-up Quilt
This Sunday, Sept. 30, the Peninsula Museum of Art will host a discussion titled, 

"Truth and Consequences"

 

Artists Harriete Estel Berman, M. Louise Stanley, and John McNamara will discuss work in the exhibition in the context of our time.

The event is free.

Sunday at 2 PM – 4 PM


Peninsula Museum of Art
1777 California Dr,
Burlingame, California 94010

Harriete

P.S. I will compare the old photos with the new photos in another post.

Big things are happening, stay tuned! 

 

Quil-before-after copy


A Mistake, A Miscalculation, The Precipice of Ruin Becomes An Opportunity

Life as an artist constantly presents missteps, hurdles, and obstacles to creating and presenting your best work. During fabrication, there could even be a mistake or miscalculation leading you to the precipice of ruining entirely your work in progress. When this happens, I know that the situation is an opportunity for improvement.  

This summer, it happened again.  I had planned to loan an older piece to an exhibition that had been on loan to my parents for years.
A Yard of Grass
The first hiccup came to light when my mother let me know that she really didn't want to part with her favorite piece. I could not disappoint her and take it away on loan for an entire year to an exhibition. So, I opted to fast forward as a "force of nature" into making a new artwork in the same dimensions as the 18-year-old original, only better.

IMG_20180612_220041065On any new piece, figuring out how to make it is always the slowest and hardest part.  But I had done this piece before, and now had 18 years more experience.  All that it required was an intensive 6-week long marathon to get it done in time!!!!!!!!!!!! Harriete-grass-assembly-Harrisburg
An additional obstacle was that I would have to assemble all the parts while away from my studio to be at my parent's house.   Like a crazy person, I fabricated new panels, cut slots in the panels and grass blades (as many as I expected to need) while in my shop at home. Then, I shipped the blades of grass in advance.  I could not take any risks of taking a 15-pound box of metal grass blades through airport security. Each blade of grass was as sharp as a razor blade.

Harriete-grass-assembly-Harrisburg-2

At my parents' house, I sat on the floor for up to eight hours a day (if I was lucky to work eight hours). Determination and dedication without rushing.  Careful choices to pick each blade of grass.

Harriete-Estel-Berman-assembling-grass3

The assembly marathon continued on our family beach vacation...every single day until this was done.  Each blade of grass was inserted one at a time.  Nearing completion, another hiccup came to light -- I realized that in my rush at home in my studio,  I had cut a lesser number of slots in the 2nd panel. Yikes! It wouldn't look as dense.   Another hiccup. I decided to adapt by inserting two blades of grass in each slot (except for the edge.)

Grass -3001-800

It worked!  This impromptu decision is invisible. Thank goodness. 

Harriete-Estel-Berman-fabrication-grass-close-up

Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

Speaking of the edge, I considered this the most important part as it was the most visible.

The selection for each blade of grass was very important, especially at the edges.

Here is the super good news. Right from the very beginning, I could tell that the new piece was going to be better than the older work. A super encouraging sign for all this crazy effort witnessed by my family, day after day.

Harriete-Estel-Berman-asembly-grass-6
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

It is one thing to work hard in your studio where no one sees how much time and sweat goes into each piece. Quite another when everyone has to witness the difficult process, cut fingers, and choices to sit inside instead of going to the beach. 

Harriete-Estel-Berman-fabrication-grass8
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

There are always unforeseen difficulties magnified by not being in my own studio. In this case, after completing the first of two panels, I realized that I hadn't pre-cut enough blades of grass.  I had to cut more by hand and custom fit them to the slots. Because I was in such a rush, and not working at home, these were variables that were not planned. 

 Harriete-Estel-Berman-Aryn-Shelander-assembly JPG

Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

Keeping the blades of grass and little shards and splinters of steel under control was important. This led to converting a corner of the bedroom into a makeshift studio space.

A-Yard-of-Grass-800-cu
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

Do I need to tell you that I reached my goal?  The density of the blades of grass was super intense -- at least four times the quantity of my original in the series.

A-Yard-Grass-cu-800
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

You can see this finished artwork yourself.  A Yard of Grass II is in an exhibition in New York City opening this week.

TERRA in FERMA Exhibition on climate change and pollution.
Dr. Bernard Heller Museum (formerly Hebrew Union College Museum), Hebrew Union College

One West Fourth Street
September 6, 2018- July 2019
Opening 5:30 p.m on Thursday, September 6, 2018.
I.D. is required for entry into the museum.

Admission is free.

Yard-of-Grass-Both-Pieces800
Photo Credit: Aryn Shelander

 A Yard of Grass II              Harriete Estel Berman  © 2018

8" height x 36" width x 6" wide

(Photographed on the kitchen table with a leaf from the table for a matching background. Necessity really is the mother of invention.)

 


Arcata, Eureka! Craft Entrepreneurs, Humboldt State University Adventure to "Rivet, Tap and Die" Over

Former-home-William-Carson-pioneer-lumberman-Eureka
William Carson House in Eureka, California


Visiting a college or university is an 
exhilarating experience for me. Meeting all the students -- wondering what the future will bring for these students. How will their academic education prepare them
? Graduation time is when many begin to realize the magnitude of the jump they are making into the rest of their lives.

Streets of Eureka outside of Just My TypeI was recently invited to Humboldt State University in Arcata (Northern California), which will be discussed later in this post. But the trip also allowed me to spend a couple hours in the delightful historic town of Eureka.

While roaming around I discovered "Just My Type"  letterpress print shop and paperie.

Just My Type letterpress and paperie

 

Lynn Jones, owner of this print shop was a graduate of Humboldt State University.  She has found her niche business creating prints and cards, including a thriving business niche printing the packaging for a local premium chocolatier Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate.   

The photo below shows the beautiful packaging for each Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate.  

Dick Taylor Chocolate packaging.

Just My Type prints the paper wrapper for each and every Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate bar.  The artisan chocolate is wrapped in paper that is like an artwork in itself.

Dick-Taylor Craft Chocolate bars wrapped in hand printed packaging.

The printed packaging even had an embossed texture of the image from the vintage printing process.

Just-my-type-vintage-presses

The high-end craft food and the craft of printing meld with artistic and entrepreneurial visions. It is wonderful to see these success stories. Dick-Taylor ships their chocolate all over the world. Premium craft has a market. 

IMG_20180414_131610628The Dick-Taylor chocolate factory was only a few blocks away from the historic Eureka shopping area and Just My Type.  I wish that I could have participated in the Dick-Taylor factory tour, but they weren't open that Sunday morning.

Still, it was a thrill to see that Eureka provided a lively community of small businesses in the historic area. A great example that craft in different mediums can be successful with a niche business focus.  

Why did I go to Eureka?


Emily Cobb and Harriete Estel Berman before lecture

Now some details about visiting Humboldt State University.  Emily Cobb (left), professor and head of the Jewelry Metal Arts Program was instrumental in inviting me to HSU as a Visiting Artist. Talk about taking months to bring an idea to fruition, the visiting artist gig was six months in gestation.

IMG_20180413_181001327_HDRLife's adventures can be hard to appreciate or even absorb at the moment. Traveling can be information overload. A Visiting Artist gig can be both rewarding and at the same time fill me with self-doubt. Will I provide the information and content to meet the expectations of the students and the teacher? Two days at Humboldt State University with Emily Cobb and her students was jam-packed.

It started with a torrentially wet, six-hour drive to Northern California which has a reputation for a lot of rain. Housing was provided at the very cute and cozy Rose Court Cottage.

Locally, the initials of Humboldt State University - "HSU" also stand for "hills, stairs and umbrellas" and that was definitely part of the experience.

The first part of Day One was an informal conversation with the students prompted solely by their questions. I responded to those prompts directly.  It is a challenge to channel a lifetime of experience into the smaller funnel of what students want to know at this moment in their careers.

For example, . . . . .

"How much do you plan before you begin making a piece? What is your planning process? Do you sketch? Make models? Mock-ups?" 

Harriete Estel Berman at Humboldt State University

Good questions.   There's no one set answer.  I always ponder how best to begin when I start a new piece.  I shared lots of samples of works in progress (shown above and below),  along with Powerpoint images of drawings, cardboard models, to high tech CAD drawings. 

  Harriete Estel Berman work in progress

"Your work has transformed and developed a lot over the years... Did you ever feel stuck in a certain series of work or style? How did you push yourself to try something new? Was your transition from one body of work to another gradual or sudden? Do you work on multiple bodies of work at a time or one at a time?" 

More good questions.
As long as I keep challenging myself into new territory, both technically, visually, and conceptually, I figure, one way or another, I will make progress.  I've come to realize that if making new work is super hard to do... which for me it always is, there is no doubt that I am in new territory. 


Parts from past artwork by Harriete Estel Berman

The final group of questions was purely technical.

Quote: "How do you "sand" things? In other words... how do you make your components so perfect? Is it in the making process or in the clean-up?" 

My response to this question, I think, was pretty clear. Practice. Experiment.
And practice some more.  At the beginning of every piece, I expect to learn or develop a technique, refining the skills over and over to obtain the effect I want.  Consequently, I get tons of practice. This is where having a job doing jewelry repair and silver repair for years and years (40+ years to be more exact), really develops skills to make almost anything. Even if I don't know how at first, I believe that I can figure it out with practice.  With all those years of experience along with a huge measure of frustration and patience, I usually find a path.


For my work, there is very little clean-up when working with tin cans. It has to be close to perfect, or the best possible, from the very beginning.  My advice to metalworking students and everyone still learning; instead of spending so much time on clean-up, learn to work clean from the start.  It is a real time saver.

metal grass by Harriete Estel Berman in progress
This mess of grass was cut from my backyard and used as models to fabricate my grass from tin cans.


I often hear a common expectation among students and the general public that making art or craft should be easy or fun. This is a myth that I do not entertain. For example, I recalled spending a week studying the shapes of the blades of grass from my yard and comparing hours of trial and error (so many errors) trying to make cuttings from tin cans resemble blades of grass.

grass as an example of blight made from tin cans
Weeks to months of discouraging, exhausting, and sometimes exhilarating experimentation is par for the course. I really try to shut down the measuring of time when exploring new ideas. 

HarrieteBermanPoster_Letter.700Following a suggestion from Emily Cobb, my public lecture focused on the political, environmental and social commentary in my work. Turns out these topics resonated well with the communities of Arcata, Eureka, Humboldt State University and the surrounding area. HSU has a strong focus on environmental science being surrounded by redwood forests and right next to the Pacific Ocean. Imagine, students majoring in Environmental Science came to an art lecture! 

I've never been to a place that so naturally focuses on being eco-friendly. The entire community cared about organic, reducing waste, and a holistic awareness of nature and the environment. So close to the Pacific Ocean, a 150-year-old lumber industry, and the center of marijuana cultivation -- the taking care of the earth vibe was everywhere. 

Instead of towers of disposable cups and plastic lids, the local community brings their own Mason Jar for a cup of coffee, and then refill it.   Both the town and the university shared an eco-focus that was refreshing and inspiring for a recycling evangelist like me. 

The second day was a workshop for "Riveting, Tap, and Die" in a condensed version of these essential skills for metal fabrication. If you aren't putting your work together with rivets and screws, this is a huge mistake. Years of fixing brass and silver objects, I see that even the most precious objects are often screwed together. There is a real art to concealing the assembly. It doesn't have to look mechanical.

KK-Flory-made-during-workshop
Quick project by KK to practice with screws

One day isn't a lot of time to allow for instruction and practice, but KK (one of the students) shared this project (left.)

I also spent some time reviewing student work and end of the school year exhibitions.  Initially, I felt a vague sense or vibe recurring in much of the work that seemed to include a bit of new age, hippie tendencies, meditation, and spirituality.   I didn't quite understand that impression until I walked around the town square and looked at the stores and shops.  There seemed to be a lot of mystical rock shops, beaded jewelry, statues of Buddha, and "discover yourself" merchandise from India. It all seemed like a "Summer of Love" time warp, a teleported bubble from Haight Ashbury.  But I think that Emily Cobb will introduce more contemporary and artistic rigor to the metal arts curriculum as she develops the metal arts program.

I marvel at the journey that awaits the students and look forward to seeing how their work develops.

Harriete
 

 

 

 

 

 
   

 


Visiting Artist Lecture with Harriete Estel Berman

HarrieteBermanPoster_Letter.700

Emily Cobb at Humboldt State University  (in Arcata near Eureka in northern California) has invited me to present two days of lectures and discussions for their students, but there is a public lecture on Thursday night, April 12 at 6:30 p.m.

If you have any questions or issues that you would like me to address, leave your request in the comments. I will incorporate that into the lecture.

Do you live in the area? I hope you can come.

Harriete  

 


Drowning, Strangled, Suffocating in Plastic -- and Experimenting with Images

This series of posts has reviewed the photographic documentation of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.  The formats included a standard plain white background, a mannequin, and a posed live model.  I had one more rather radical idea that I wanted to reveal in a post before a final comparison of all the formats.  Model dress rehersal practicing post 
I had an idea of creating a photographic image that could possibly convey a larger environmental message rather than strictly focusing on documenting the necklace.  

Creativity_incThis post shows the progression of this photographic experiment.  The step-by-step images illustrate the evolution of my idea and highlight the reality that most projects are not fully coherent at the initial conception.  All too often we forget the trials and tribulations during the hours of preparation and the work that it takes to bring an idea to reality.   There can be lots of mistakes along the way, and that is O.K.  If you ever read the book, Creativity, Inc * you will hear numerous anecdotes about Pixar's ideas, storylines and characters that required tenacious development, multiple iterations, mistakes, and revelations all the way through.

For my photo experiment, I took tangible steps at the very beginning and planned to give it time to evolve.  I sewed the sheer organza dress and reserved an evening for a practice session with Jen, the live model, in my living room -- literally a dress rehearsal (shown above.) 

Then on the next day, the experimental postures that seemed to work best in my living room were photographed at Philip Cohen's studio (shown below.)  We were trying to portray what drowning or floating in a deluge of plastics looks like.

model practicing postures for photo shoot with Black Plastic Gyre Necklace

A couple of experimental postures were just the beginning..... 

model practicing on the saw horses for experimental image

Photoshop magic took out the sawhorse support for the photo (below.)

model practicing drowning for experiment with Black Plastic Gyre Necklace

Then the image was handed off to my daughter, Aryn Shelander, a professional graphic expert for more Photoshop experimentation. Aryn was very supportive of the photo experiment idea and took on responsibility for the final result. 

I saved a few of the many iterations as Aryn sent progress reports to me and asked for creative direction. Below are screen grabs as the modified photo developed.  I will also admit that it took lots of back and forth iterations to figure out exactly what to do to get the intended imaginary.   It was a trial and error effort that evolved throughout.

1764

 For example, we decided that  Experimental Iteration #1 was too blue. 

Next, Experimental Iteration #2 (below), we tried changing the colors of the water

 

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace with variable water
Experimental Iteration #2


In a further evolution, Iteration #3 (below ), we changed the color of the deeper water and added the cityscape to appear that it was also submerged in water.

 

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace with underwater flooded city
Experimental Iteration #3 

With these details, the image and my intended message were converging.

In Experimental Iteration #4 below, we added some floating trash in the water and added 
a shadow under the necklace to make it appear that it is suspended near the bottom.    

 

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace submerged in climate change metaphor
Experimental Iteration #4

In Experimental Iteration #5 (below) the water is murkier.  This is a nice effect, but it also made it too hard to see the necklace. 

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace 6 with dity murky water
Experimental Iteration #5

Aryn decided that the necklace needed more clarity.

In this final version (Iteration #6 below), a little extra contrast helps the necklace to show up a bit more. 

 Black Plastic Gyre Necklace cityscape 7 with trash

Experiment Iteration #6 final

Iteration #6, above, is the tentative final photo for my radical experiment.  Aryn and I decided to stop at this point and think about it for a while. As of this post, this photo experiment has taken close to three weeks of development including Photoshop iterations. 

A tip from the Photoshop professionals is to create separate layers for the various effects so that you can push and pull, change, or alter each element separately.    

The hardest part for me was to realize that the necklace and the model were now components of a different artwork -- the photo.  The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is literally submerged in the larger message about climate change, plastic pollution, and the impact of plastic in the oceans strangling marine animals and fish.

Your opinions are most welcome. What do you think? I look forward to hearing what you may have to say.

Harriete  

More Information about the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace can be found on my website.

Previous Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace:
 

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography - More than Documentation?

 


Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Working with a live model requires a lot more planning than any other option for photographing jewelry or art clothing.  Finding a model is the first challenge. A close friend agreed to model, but I would have loved to have had more model options just to experiment. 

Clothing for the model becomes a critical issue. While planning for the photographic documentation of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I purchased two white dance dresses plus sewed a transparent organza dress. Just sewing up the dress was a stress test in itself.  Twelve hours of stitching double layers of slippery sheer organza without knowing if it would fit, look good, function well, or live up to the vision I had for this photo shoot. 

We started with a dress rehearsal in my living room (shown below) and practiced a full range of movements and poses.

test photo shoot with dress


adjusting the models dress at Phil Cohen PhotographicYou can not imagine my relief! The dress fit perfectly but I had all kinds of contingency plans for a nip and tuck emergency sew.  During the dress rehearsal, Jen Ohara (the model) and I reviewed underwear options and practiced the poses. Every detail counts. Ultimately we decided to have her wear one of the dance costumes and the organza dress at the same time which gave more layers of fabric. 

Before the actual photography even began at Philip Cohen Photographic, I am snipping at raw edges of the fabric edge. It is hard to know in advance what the camera will ignore and what the camera will see as a major flaw.

If I could make any recommendation when using a model in addition to all the advance preparation, it is to have an extra person as an assistant.  I knew this but didn't have anyone to help this time.  Thus you see me in the photos below at Philip Cohen photo studio making all the adjustments to the model and the necklace.  The necklace was long and heavy.  Sometimes we needed two people just to move it.working with a model phil Cohen Photographic
During a photo shoot with a live model, an assistant can step in to make each of the adjustments while you keep your eye on the bigger picture. When I had to go into the camera frame for each adjustment, it was very hard to see everything.

I would move into the frame, change the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, model, dress, fan, and move out of the camera view for an inspection.  It was all distracting and time-consuming, and I never had time to study the composition. 

photographing with a model at Philip Cohen Photographic

In two hours we tried several poses, standing, sitting, and a few unusual postures for an experimental photographic composition.  (This will be next week's post as the Photoshop iterations still need work.)  Modeling can be tiring as well.  Jen had to balance on two saw horses as just one example. 

Model balancing on two saw horses

Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the third photoshoot in five days.  Both Phil Cohen and I were getting progressively more tired.  Creativity takes energy. I am still having decision fatigue

A few of the final contending images (from over 100 possibilities) are shown below. There is some variability in the exposure. Ignore that issue. It will be fixed. (These are the proof shots for review rather than the final photos.)

Let me know what you think of the different poses of the model and layout of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. Pick your favorite.

Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #2
Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #3
Model at philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #4
Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #5

 

 

 

Jen-looking-forward
Model Shot #6

 

 

 

 

Model photo shoot at Philip Cohen Photographic
Model shot #7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'd appreciate hearing about your opinions about the images.

 

Harriete   

Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace: 

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography - More than Documentation?

 


Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Phil Cohen photography using a mannequin
While photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace I wanted to try using a mannequin to provide scale and to see the necklace worn with the neutral context that a mannequin can provide.

Suzanne Ramljak, t
he curator for the upcoming exhibition, Uneasy Beauty,  also told me that she would like a mannequin photo in the exhibition catalog for the Fuller Craft Museum. That declaration raises a huge expectation that the mannequin shot needs to be very good, but I am not sure the images using the mannequin shots deliver.  See for yourself in this post. (The next post will showcase the model photos.)  

Since I was committed to at least trying a mannequin photo session, the next question was whether to rent, borrow, or buy a mannequin? 

Borrowing proved to be impossible.  One artist friend did offer her inventory of many mannequins, but she only had mannequins with black painted bodies. That would not work for a black necklace.  I felt that a white mannequin form would be necessary to provide high contrast for photographing a black necklace.

Ultimately, I decided to rent a mannequin and Mannequin Madness in Oakland , CA was recommended to me.


Mannequin Madness in Oakland, CA

Mannequin Madness (shown above) turned out to be a fabulous resource for renting or buying. They have mannequins of every kind and description. 

shape for photography session at Mannequin Madness

Mannequin Madness also has an area set aside for photography with a plain white background paper ready to go. They also have photography lights. This is all available for $30 an hour with a two-hour minimum and they will let you use 2 mannequins or dress forms in their warehouse included in the price. That is a real bargain!   

Available for an additional fee are tripods and "ghost mannequins".  Check out the Mannequin Madness website. Even if you don't live in the San Francisco Bay Area, they do ship and have other locations.  

I rented a mannequin for $90 for a week. P
erhaps if I had more time, I would have considered buying a used mannequin that needed a new layer of paint to refresh her appearance, but I had no time for cosmetic mannequin repair during the week-long photographic marathon.

The vast diversity of mannequins also raised a number of issues that I had not considered until looking at all the options at Mannequin Madness. Some of the mannequins had no heads or no arms.  Some had stylized hands, hair, and faces that would not work for this necklace photoshoot. There were other factors or potential options that I didn't fully appreciate until later.  On the mannequin that I selected, the arms detach for transport, great, but they only attach to the body in a fixed position. Nuts! I could not pose the arm differently or bend the elbow.  And the legs were ridiculously skinny, so skinny that I didn't like looking at them head on.

One feature that I prioritized was natural looking hands (despite the oblique face) when I selected a mannequin.  I also wanted a seamless neck and head for the image that I visualized in my mind before the photoshoot even began.  Here is how it turned out below. 

Mannequin close-up image

Mannequin Photo #1

I think this is a good image. The photo shows a close-up with lots of detail. The necklace fragments have a high contrast profile against the white background and mannequin. Using the mannequin in this pose also provided a more traditional jewelry necklace shot. The downside is that you can not see how long the necklace actually is -- 26 feet long. 

 Photographer Philip Cohen and I worked together for hours on the mannequin photos (shown below). Moving a 26 feet long necklace is not easy.  The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is far heavier and more delicate than you might expect. The length was easily tangled or twisted and it does have a bottom side so that it can lay properly without damaging itself. 

Below are the best of the mannequin images from perhaps 75 shots. They present a variety of compromises.
 What do you think? Do you have a favorite? Let me know.

Mannequin 2HB61-9154-Edit     Mannequin Photo #2 
MannequinHB61-9159-FIN-55Mannequin Photo #3
Mannequin3HB61-9188Mannequin #4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MannequinHB61-9211Mannequin #5
MannequinHB61-9242-Edit-EditMannequin #6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final mannequin image (#6) uses the mannequin without putting the necklace on the body. While I think it is an interesting image and provides scale for the necklace, I don't think it shows the necklace to best advantage.  

Which photo would you pick as best choice? 

The next post is about using a live model and what I think turned out to be the best photographic shots despite the trade-offs and obstacles.

Harriete  

 

Previous Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace:
 

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography - More than Documentation?

 


Photography and The Plain White Background

HB61-9075-Edit
Photo image #1

For the first photo shoot of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I used plain white paper background. This is possibly the most conservative approach to documenting the artwork.  It also gave photographer Philip Cohen practice with lighting and exposure for the challenging black-on-black textures.

Out of the 75+ images Cohen took in three hours, the goal now is to select just a few of the best.  I pay for each image that I decide to keep, therefore I need to choose wisely.  Experience has taught me that I end up using the best images over and over, but at this initial selection stage, my brain is often overwhelmed with decision fatigue.

And because I am still vibrating with concerns with the intricate details of fabricating the artwork, it is difficult to view the work objectively at arm's length to see what is the best image.   

So, of the five photos in this post which ones would you buy?
HB61-9075-Edit
Photo image #2

Which photos capture the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace most effectively? Tell me what you think. 
HB61-9075-Edit
Photo image #3

Here is how I went through my selection criteria:

A minimum requirement is a full view and a detail close-up -- but which ones?

Also, I'd like to have a vertical and a horizontal.  One never knows which situation may call for a particular format.  Reframing an image in Photoshop is an option, but the result isn't always the best quality photo. Optimal focus and lighting is always in the original image from the photographer.

Social networking sites add to the quandary on vertical or horizontal. The constant use of computers for viewing images has made the horizontal format very popular. Horizontal images work well for Facebook and social network banners. Vertical images work better on Pinterest.  Instagram leans toward square. There is no way to use one image for everything anymore.

The full view below is great, but it presents a major weakness  -- there is no way to know that the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is 26 feet long.  
HB61-9075-Edit
Photo image #4

With a plain white background, there is no indication of scale.  This image provides no clue for a viewer to tell how big this necklace is at all, yet for my purposes, a plain white background is essential to emphasize the stark black and white contrast.  Typical alternative backgrounds such as wood texture, sand, rocks, or a room-like context may work for an editorial shot, but would likely distract excessively from this particular artwork and my expectations for using the photo.

How can a photo of a large object reveal detail, materials, scale and the artist's intent all at the same time?

HB61-9075-Edit

Photo image #5

Lacking any reference for scale, this close-up section could be 2 inches or 2 feet.  This can be a serious issue when a curator or juried situation is looking for something bigger or smaller if they don't fully comprehend the description.

Out of the five photos in this post, which ones would you select?  Each choice adds expense.

Would you change your choices by knowing that I have additional shots on a mannequin and a model?   These will be shown in the upcoming posts.

 

Harriete

 

Background information about hiring a photographer (below.)

Here are a couple of very practical issues when you hire a professional photographer.

Professional photography is an expense that some artists and makers may consider optional, but there is no doubt that professional quality images will elevate your work when seen by exhibition sponsors, curators, and potential buyers. Professional quality images can open doors and provide opportunities.  Lacking professional quality images may incur an opportunity cost that an artist may not even realize. 

Once you've chosen to have professional photographs of your art or craft, ask photographers about their fee structure.  Philip Cohen charges by the hour for the photography session, and then I pay an additional amount for each final image that I choose.  But money is not the only issue. You need quality photographs and a photographer that is familiar with your medium. A working relationship with a photographer that understands your intent is paramount.

 

 

Harriete  

 

Posts in this series about photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace:

Drowning, Strangled, Suffocating in Plastic -- and Experimenting with Images

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography and The Plain White Background

Photography - More than Documentation?

 


Photography - More than Documentation?

When an artwork is finished, a new creative process begins -- how best to photographically capture the essence of the work beyond rote documentation.  For the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I definitely wanted to convey a much larger context far beyond the form and materials alone.  During fabrication, I contemplated quite a few problems and uncertainties to accomplish my photography expectations. 

So when the fabrication and assembly were finished, I mentally committed to photographing the necklace in four scenarios:

    1) a swirling gyre on plain white paper without props 

    2) a mannequin to provide scale

    3) a live model shot

    4) a model in a photographic experiment fantasy with water.

A week-long marathon was about to begin.

Advanced planning started with making sure that my photographer Philip Cohen had the studio and time reserved.

large roll of photo paper

A large roll of white paper was the first requirement. White backgrounds are generally the standard these days.

Roll of paper & mannequin

Shall I buy or rent a mannequin? I decided to rent a mannequin....but had to schedule a pickup time when Mannequin Madness would be open.  (More on mannequin resources in a future post.)

A professional photographer with a quality camera, tripod, and proper lighting is a minimum for the quality images I need and expect.  

Due to the size of the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace (26 feet long), the camera had to be as high as possible to shoot down and include the entire large swirl.  Hence, photographer, Philip Cohen, is up on a ladder. 

IMG_20180227_131433194

The lighting and exposure are always critical issues for excellent photographs, but when photographing black objects, these are especially difficult issues. The light meter in the photo below helps determine the proper exposure with the photographer's strobe lights.  

IMG_20180227_130448336

The light meter can take a reading right next to the artwork (shown below) to check the light exposure, rather than trusting the light meter in the camera.   Still, on the first day of the photoshoot, Phil Cohen bracketed every shot like crazy to ensure a proper exposure.    Phil Cohen checking light exposure

The set of color swatches and palette of grays (shown in the photo below) can help determine proper exposure and help adjust the color or light in Photoshop. This is just one more incremental tool toward perfection in professional quality photography that can make the difference between average and amazing. 
IMG_20180227_140025882

There is nothing more difficult than photographing black on black while trying to capture the varied textures in the materials.  I knew it would be a challenge from trying to photograph the Black Plastic Bracelet.  In this close-up (image below) taken with my phone, the black-on-black texture completely disappears due to poor exposure and improper lighting.  Black mud . . . .
black on black texture is difficult to capture

While most of the professional photography is done using a tripod, a few hand-held shots can work well for close-ups.
Hand held shots for close up images

During the first day of the photoshoot, we only photographed the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace on white paper.  Standard documentation, but I am worried that these will not be the best images because a viewer will have difficulty comprehending the scale of the finished necklace.

This is why I planned a second day photographing the necklace with a mannequin, and a third day with a model.  Photographing with a mannequin loses the human touch which can be a plus or minus, but occasionally, juried exhibitions, curators, or books do not allow model shots.  
Mannequin ready for photoshoot with the black plastic gyre necklace

Photographing artwork with a model can be extremely complex with too many variables to list here.

Harriete Estel Berman with model at photoshoot for black plastic gyre necklace

I'll be highlighting more of the issues and techniques of photographing with mannequins and models in the next few posts.

In the meantime, what do you expect works best for photographing the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace?  Plain white paper? Mannequin? Or a live model? In the next three posts, I will show the processes and finished shots of each.  I'd like to hear your comments or questions, either before or after the posts.

Harriete

Posts in this series about the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace

Drowning, Strangled, Suffocating in Plastic -- and Experimenting with Images 

Photography -- Model Challenges & Working Out the Details  

Photography -- Mannequin Needed! Rent, Buy, or Borrow? Basic or Stylized?

Photography and The Plain White Background  

Photography - More than Documentation?


Assistants, Assistance and Generosity to Complete the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace

The Black Plastic Gyre Necklace has been a marathon effort to complete within a tight timeline. It has taken the combined effort of many people.

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace in progress

I have been collecting black plastic for years but didn't have nearly enough to fulfill my massive vision because I avoid buying anything packaged in black plastic. However, through the generosity of people that know me personally, or through Facebook, quantities of black plastic started coming in. Some people gave me black plastic one piece at a time, others a bag or whole boxes of black plastic.  I couldn't have reached my goal without this help.

On Saturday, an entire box of black plastic came from Suzane Beaubrun that she collected from her neighbors. It provided a mind blowing variety of black plastic. 
IMG_20180217_165754860
I am both dazzled and dismayed at the vast selection of shapes and patterns -- both seductive and sinful at the same time. 

Even the employees from RethinkWaste in San Carlos sent an envelope of special shapes in black plastic.

IMG_20180217_164627899

I cut all the plastic shapes myself, but this consumed every available moment, day and night, for the past seven weeks.

Black-tentacles-cut-by-Harriete

IMG_20180219_152519127My studio assistant, Margo Plagemen (right and below) saw this project from beginning to end. She drilled holes into many of the black plastic parts and helped with threading the black plastic tentacles as we solved problems and refined the plan for assembly.

Margot Plageman assembling the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace

Early in the project, I was looking for additional project assistance for threading the individual pieces together.  Shoshana Phoenixx and Aliza Abrams worked as outside constructors at their shared studio in Oakland. 

Shoshana Phoenix and Aliza Abrams assembling black plastic
Shoshana and Aliza discovered my Facebook post seeking project assistance on the Facebook group titled Support Network for Artist Re-use Contra Costa (SNARCC).  This group is organized by RC Ferris. I am told that she is the "recycling queen" for Contra Costa County. RC Ferris also donated two separate boxes of black plastic. If you work with recycled or reused materials, check out the Facebook page for SNARCC. 

black plastic junkSince this "necklace" is going to be 24 feet long, I needed an assortment of odd black plastic spacers (i.e. junk stuff) and went to SCRAP in San Francisco.

Bottle caps, pen caps, black straws and all too common black plastic parts (diverted from their destiny as trash) were readily available.

SCRAP is an amazing resource for artists, craftspeople, teachers, or anyone looking for materials to reuse at affordable prices. They always have an amazing diversity of discarded paraphernalia from paper to plastic, tins, wood, fabric and more, that can stretch your imagination. 

For my family and me, a regular stop at SCRAP is always a destination in San Francisco because what they have in their building comes and goes. The prices are very low. Donations of materials, leftovers, surplus office supplies, nicknacks, and overruns from businesses and individuals in the Bay Area provide an astonishing range of scrap materials. When you pay for your jackpot from SCRAP, double the amount they ask for as a donation, and you still have a great deal.

IMG_20180212_171712579

My husband. Bill, is my home support.  He drove me to SCRAP while I "double-timed" and cut black plastic in the car. Bill also provided transport dropping off plastic in Oakland to Shoshana and Aliza and picking up completed sections. And toward the completion of the necklace, Bill helped by tying the knots (with his Eagle Scout knot expertise) so that the knots will be invisible and secure as one long Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. 

I am still cutting black plastic, but the finish line is fast approaching (or I am hearing the "bell lap" with the Winter Olympics in the background).
IMG_20180210_172748893
Shoshana and Aliza tell me they have finished their final two units. Knot tying and adjustment are scheduled for this week. 

Suzanne Ramljak, the curator, will see the Black Plastic Gyre necklace this coming weekend. YIKES!!!!!!!!!!  Next on the agenda is a shipping box and photography for the catalog. 

The photo session with Philip Cohen is scheduled for March 3, 2018.  The Pinterest board for planning the photoshoot is here. The plan for the final professional photos includes trying the necklace on a mannequin, and subsequently on two or three live models. I will document the photo shoot preparation with Phil Cohen so it can be shared in a future post. 


Stay tuned for updates on documenting the plastic trash on the street. I have written to Trader Joe's, Lyfe Kitchen, and the local newspaper hoping to gain some traction on eliminating the use of black plastic while I continue to collect black plastic trash off the streets, gutters, and sidewalks.

Thank you to everyone who has made a contribution to this Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.  
 

Plastic Contributors:

Suzane Beaubrun
Belinda Chlouber
Ellen Crosby
Melissa Durlofsky
Mary Ellison
RC Ferris Support Network for Artist Re-use Contra Costa (SNARCC), CA
Madison Guzman – RethinkWaste, San Carlos, CA
Martha Husick
Theresa Kwong
Roxy Lentz
Margot Plageman
Suzanne Ramljak
Aryn Shelander
Sara Sherman-Levine
Carolyn Tillie

Plastic Assembly:
Aliza Abrams
Shoshana Phoenixx
Margot Plageman
Bill Shelander

Additional Resources:
SCRAP, San Francisco

 

Harriete

Related Posts:

"I Can See Plastic -- Everywhere"

 

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace - Jewelry Brings Awareness to Environmental Crisis

 

 


"I Can See Plastic -- Everywhere"

I've been working on my Recycle Series of jewelry for eight years.

Plastic-bottle-Herbal-EssenceAs an artist and visual thinker, I'm well aware of the huge investment consumer brands put into their packaging with alluring, beautiful jewel tones and shapes.  As an avid recycler I'm also aware that so much of this consumer packaging is for single use -- then just thrown away.  Until recently, I was primarily dismayed about the enormous quantity of plastic that gets thrown away, or perhaps recycled (for those who have an activist mindset and a curbside recycling program.)  

I've come to realize that the plastic pollution problems are much larger than most people realize. 

A lot of single-use plastics go to landfill, and a very small percentage of the plastic is actually recycled.  But vast amounts of plastics are improperly disposed of and get washed or blown into the environment where they do not degrade for hundreds of years.  A new documentary exposes the huge quantity of plastic that is accumulating in our oceans.

In parallel with the oceanic accumulation of plastic, I also learned that black plastic is not recycled (even though it is made of recyclable material).  These two insights launched my current work in progress titled,  Black Plastic Gyre Necklace. It is about the vast quantities, big and small, of plastic in our oceans. The use of only black plastic to appear more threatening.

Coincidentally, while working on my Black Plastic Gyre Necklace, I kept wondering how so much plastic gets into our oceans.  With heightened mindfulness during the past few weeks, I become aware of how much plastic, including black plastic, is littered on our streets. Yes, in the streets and yards or on sidewalks and shrubs.

Plastic-Waste-street-gutter-oceans

As one example, I saw this black plastic takeout tray, black plastic spoon, and cellophane laying in the street while on my way to the gym.  I'm always in a rush in the morning and promised myself that I would photograph the trash and pick it up after class.  But then for one reason or another, day after day, I would forget. 

Each day I was again confronted by the same black plastic takeout tray and made the same promise to myself.   After a few days of repeated negligence, I also noticed that the tray inched its way along the curb and soon realized it was inevitably heading toward the storm sewer.  Just a little bit of wind or moved by a car tire, it inched its way toward the storm sewer leading to the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. 

Finally, I photographed it and picked it up. One small crisis averted, but every day I started seeing more and more black plastic in the street.  I feel like I'm in a weird version of the Sixth Sense movie -- "I see post-use plastic everywhere."

black plastic sharpie pen laying in the street
This Sharpie pen laid on the street for days.  Crushed by cars, the tube was broken, but the black pen cap proved to be indestructible. I photographed it, picked it up and took it home. 

The pen cap is now incorporated into the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace.

No wonder plastic accumulates in the ocean and waterways. It lasts forever.     

Now I am really paying attention.  In the two block walk to the gym, I almost always find plastic litter. 

Plastic-strap

This white plastic strap is really tough. You can't break this. You can barely cut it with scissors.  There were two of them. This is what they use to strap boxes and furniture so they don't come apart. 

Plastic-strap-closer

Next there was a plastic bottle. There is nothing "Super Green" about a plastic bottle.  

Green-plastic-bottle-sidewalk-trash-close-large

I photographed it and then picked it up. This is becoming a very smelly and distasteful experience in plastic waste awareness.

Green-plastic-bottle-sidewalk-trash-closer-large

Before I get to my car there is a plastic baggie laying on the storm sewer grate.  

So this is how plastic is getting to the ocean....

Sewer-with-plastic-bag

This plastic baggie was used for perhaps an hour or two but is now on the brink of going into the storm sewer, floating through the waterways, draining into the San Francisco Bay, and suspended in the ocean for centuries.

Where does my responsibility end?

Sure I picked up the plastic along the street where I walk, but every day there is more. 

This was on 43rd Avenue in San Mateo.  Within these two blocks are several restaurants with takeout food, e.g. Papa John Pizza, Round Table, a taqueria, Molly Stones grocery store, and CVS pharmacy. They all have plastic packaging and takeout food. Every business and every person who walks that two blocks should be responsible for keeping it clean and cleaning up the trash. 

San Mateo has a new Adopt-A-Drain program. I've already volunteered to take care of the storm sewer near my house. At home, I have captured a considerable quantity of organic debris and plastic waste from going into that one sewer. Is that enough?

By 2022, the City of San Mateo will be required to prevent all trash from entering the San Francisco Bay through the storm drains to meet mandates set by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, but who is going to help?  It occurs to me that we will all pay for this trash left in the street, one way or another.

 

Plastic packaging has to be redesigned.

Berman-Harriete-Recycle-fuschia-black-bracelet

Right now the burden of dealing with plastic waste is on the consumer and they are doing a terrible job. Consumers recycled only 9.5% of plastic waste in 2014.  Another 15% was combusted for energy, while 75.5% of what was collected was sent to landfills. China used to accept America's plastic waste, but no more. We need to think about how we can reduce the quantity of plastic waste, now

Future posts will include assembly and progress on the Black Plastic Gyre Necklace and some concrete, but easy steps for reducing plastic. 

Scroll down for continued documentation of more plastic that I discover each day in one block of 43rd Avenue, San Mateo, CA. 

 

 


Daily updates of plastic found on 1 block of 43rd Avenue, San Mateo

plastic waste in the gutter

Cellophane and a chapstick- February 14, 2018

 

Pure-fresh-gum

Pure Fresh Spearmint Gum plastic package - February 16, 2018

 

Plastic-bottle-in-street

"Nice" purified plastic bottle (crushed) - February 16, 2018

 

Bottle-cap-in-street
Plastic Bottle Cap  & Cigarette butt - February 16, 2018
Evidently, someone drove over the bottle (shown above.) The cap burst off and laid in the street until I picked it up. Plastic bottle caps are becoming a huge part of plastic waste in the waterways and oceans. The cigarette but is disgusting (though not part of my project.) Cigarette butts are toxic to fish and marine animals.  

 

Dental-floss-plastic-in-street
Plastic Dental Flosser -  February 16, 2018

 

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Ice Breakers Plastic Box  -  February 18, 2018 
This includes both the top and the bottom of the box. 

 

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Plastic Bag  - February 17, 2018 
The plastic bag was obviously driven over a couple of times, but no one stopped and picked it up.

 

 

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Plastic sushi tray with soy sauce package - February 17, 2018 

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Red plastic straw - February 17, 2018  
Plastic straws are becoming a huge problem as they are dropped in the street, no one cares to pick them up and they end up in the ocean.  

 

I thought plastic 6-pack rings were outlawed because marine animals and fish get trapped inside the loops.

6-pack ring laying in the sewer grate
6-pack ring discovered laying on the storm sewer grate - February 20, 2018


green plastic straw wrapped in paper in the street
Green Plastic Straw with paper wrapper lying in the street on the way to the plastic ocean -  February 19

 

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Translucent plastic cup lid with a piece of sand paper and paper litter laying on the storm sewer. This plastic lid is one blast of wind or a rainy day before it arrives in the San Francisco Bay on the way to the ocean.  Of course, I picked it up. Why didn't you?  - February 20, 2018 

 

More photos coming for each day I visit this one block and document the plastic waste in the street. 

 

Related Posts and Resources:

Black Plastic Gyre Necklace - Jewelry Brings Awareness to Environmental Crisis

Plastic Recycling Facts and Figures

 


Black Plastic Gyre Necklace - Jewelry Brings Awareness to Environmental Crisis

Do you know that black plastic is rarely recycled?   When I 've asked around, not one person so far has known that black plastic is not recyclable. 

Most people think that the recycle symbols indicate that it is "recyclable," so did I, but it is not.  This was recently verified by my local recycling center.  The recycling center, ReThink Waste, is now helping to bring this issue to wider attention and issued the following message on Twitter and Facebook to help me collect black plastic for a new artwork. 

Black plastic is not recycled (even if it is labeled as recyclable) because most plastics are sorted by optical scanners that cannot "see" or recognize black plastic. Essentially black plastic can't be differentiated from other trash, so it goes into landfills, or even worse, goes into our oceans and waterways. (More on this topic in the next post.)  

Yet black plastic is used pervasively for catering, take-out, deli containers, and microwave packaging. Pay attention to this issue and you will be shocked!  Black plastics in the form of food containers, pen caps, bottle caps, black spindles, etc. -- all go to trash.

Here is one example.  Shown below are twenty 12-inch diameter bowls from one event catered by Lyfe Kitchen. Lyfe Kitchen sells take-out and catered food marketed as sustainable. But there is nothing sustainable about using black plastic containers.
Black-plastic-bowls-waste-1200


I contacted Lyfe Kitchen about the use of black plastic.
They responded: "...we are in the midst of a packaging vendor transition on the West coast. We have been diligently looking to source a more sustainable option for our catered salads container pictured here."

To bring more awareness to the issues surrounding black plastic I made this bracelet years ago.

Black-plastic-recycled-jewelry

 Now I am immersed in making a "Black Plastic Gyre Necklace" that will be 24-feet long. The "necklace" will wrap relentlessly around a model, again and again, to convey the accumulation of plastic debris that is clogging waterways, strangling animals, and damaging coral reefs.  The piece is intended to highlight the impact that plastics are having in our oceans and rivers.  

For the past six weeks, I have been frantically cutting tentacle shapes from black plastic containers to create the gigantic Black Plastic Gyre Necklace to meet an exhibition deadline.

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The shapes are cut from black plastic forms such as this container (below) clearly embossed "Go-Green" -- yet it is nearly impossible to recycle.  This is an example of what is called "greenwashing."
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 There is nothing green about this black plastic.

GO-GREEN-container-and-cut copy

 I'm finding that the enormous variety of black plastic items allows me to cut out some very interesting shapes. 

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Interestingly, each black plastic container inspires different shapes. The above photo includes exquisite shapes cut from a  Noosa yogurt lid. The lid was soft yet flexible, ideal for cutting curvilinear shapes. I can't imagine why this brand uses black plastic lids.


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Why do cookies and candies come with a black plastic insert? Only because I think someone thought it looks good or sophisticated. This is another example of unnecessary plastic waste in packaging. 

One of those 12" black plastic salad bowls (shown above) provides a lot of plastic. In the photo below, I am starting to cut it up into pieces for the necklace.   

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One black plastic bowl can generate so many parts, producing a messy pile of great shapes (below) that will go into the necklace.

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Every day I spend hours cutting black plastic for the necklace to meet the deadline.

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If you would like to contribute your black plastic to this project, contact me to drop off your plastic or mail it to me. The idea is to raise awareness about plastic in our environment and become an advocate for change. 

Stay tuned for more posts about progress on this necklace and the local makers who I hired to help meet a tight deadline.

This Black Plastic Gyre Necklace is destined for an exhibition titled, Uneasy Beauty. Curated by Suzanne Ramljak, it will be in an exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum. If you're ready for more, check out the page on my website that has more images and information.  


Harriete
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Thanksgiving 2017 in Black and White

Black and white thanksgiving theme
This year my Thanksgiving table theme was in black and white, a reflection of the current propensity for political and social polarization.  

With a small group this year, our conversation topics brought everyone into thoughtful and civil debate. Some controversies were acknowledged but remained unresolved.  In particular, the recent revelations in the news about inappropriate behavior by men in power positions are leaving everyone shocked.

#Metoo can't be ignored, nor should it be. I don't know any women who haven't experienced inappropriate advances. The widespread public revelations could lead to a huge pivot in society. Although I remain circumspect about accusations without evidence, I tend to believe the women. Where will this lead?  How will social behavior and expected norms shift?

   White roses and white pumplin

The black and white theme included white roses flowers and a white pumpkin.

Black and White flowers arrangement with whtie carnations, gerbena daisies with black center, and white rosesWhite carnations, white roses, and white Gerbera Daisies with black centers continued the motif. The black bowl worked well as a framing device for the flowers and foliage.

Black and white Ebonette

This year the black and white theme was inspired by my collection of Knowles Ebonette vintage dishes. Designed in 1954, they are of a classic mid-century modern design. Every plate was hand painted with the black and white lines so they vary quite a bit. The dinner plates have a slightly squarish shape. The bowls are slightly irregular. It seems the blank ceramic for these dishes were painted in different patterns.

The Edwin M. Knowles Company "ceased operations in late 1962 citing a lack of foreseeable profits.   This was largely blamed on tariffs which were said to encourage the importation of foreign dinnerware at prices so low that E. M. Knowles could not be competitive."

The current debate on "made in America" is not a new topic.
Black and white Thanksgiving table.
I also used my vintage gold plated flatware and gold and black glasses. All mid-century modern that I have collected for years.  

In closing, I wanted to share one secret for a memorable table setting  that can be used anytime you want to set an amazing table -- it is as simple as a roll of paper. Sometimes I feel inspired to paint the paper or more often I discover a roll of gift wrap that offers great colors or patterns. A great pattern on the table can inspire a new way to look at the dishes you already own. 

Harriete