University of Michigan hosts smelly art installation

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Eric Woodhams

Art installation creator Robin Frohardt made thousands of products out of plastic waste from New York City’s streets and rubbish bins for the fresh produce section of the Plastic Bag Store in Ann Arbor.


Capital News Service

LANSING – Straight from the rubbish bins of New York, a new Ann Arbor art exhibition criticizes the overuse of plastic.

The Plastic Bag Store is a grocery store made entirely from plastic waste and filled with cheeky packaging and ironic product titles. The University of Michigan exhibit poses questions about overconsumption, overpackaging and our legacy as a human race.

Creator Robin Frohardt said trips to the grocery store inspired her.

“I was noticing the ridiculousness of how much packaging is being used and thrown away, so I thought it’d be funny to make something even more ridiculous,” she said.

Frohardt plays on the names of products. For example, Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles are now “Baggo,” accompanied by the slogan, “hot melting bags in the morning!”

The exhibition, which runs through Feb. 5, also offers an immersive film and puppetry experience that addresses what archeologists of the future will think our values are today.

“You start to imagine what people in the future might think of all this stuff when they excavate it,” Frohardt said. “They might totally misinterpret what these items were and what they meant to us.”

Four U-M partners brought the Plastic Bag Store to Ann Arbor: The University Musical Society, Graham Sustainability Institute, U-M Museum of Art and the Office of the President Arts Initiative.

Sara Billman, the vice president of marketing and communications for the University Musical Society, said, “This project really provides a leverage for organizations to be more actively involved, and engage the community into big societal issues of our time.” 

“As a work of art, it’s totally amazing,” Billmann said. “Everything is a little bit ironic, even to the point where you can turn it over and see the ingredient list, which says, ‘contains bottle caps, straws, Starbucks stir strips.’”

Collaborating ensured more people heard about the installation and created a greater, said Jennifer Haverkamp, the director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

Combining science with artwork is an essential part of addressing the plastic pollution problem, Haverkamp said.

“The wicked problems that we are facing in sustainability can’t be solved by science alone,” she said.

Frohardt agrees: The installation gets “more people’s hearts involved, not just their minds.”

“I think it takes all kinds of people working together,” she said.

Haverkamp said. the collaboration among the university partners has also spurred a panel presentation about solving the single-use plastic problem hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Such discussions “help reinforce the messages of the art and have people learn more about the problem.” 

As for the store, “it’s something that you can appreciate on a superficial level, but it’s also something that resonates on a much deeper level and will, hopefully, ultimately change behaviors,” Billmann said.

After visiting the Plastic Bag Store, Frohardt said she wants people to walk into a normal grocery store with a different perspective.

“I hope that people will have a deeper understanding of, or a deeper context in, how our present- day actions can impact the far-far future,” she said.

Eric Woodhams

The bakery section at the Plastic Bag Store in Ann Arbor, features a bubble wrap frosted cake and cupcakes with bottle cap decor.

Audrey Richardson reports for Great Lakes Echo.

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