Plastic, The New Coal

curated by Patricia Watts, Monique Verdin

  • This information will be updated.
The plastics industry is on track to release more greenhouse gases by 2030 than coal-fired plants in the United States. In Louisiana, the courts recently revived plans for a megaplastics plant to be built in St. James Parrish on land along the lower Mississippi River known as Cancer Alley. Over the last twenty years, there has been increasing concern by artists working across disciplines with scientists and other specialists focusing on this by-product of the fossil fuel industry, who have developed an aesthetic language, engaging plastics as both subject and material for their artmaking.

For the exhibition Plastic, The New Coal, selected artists will address the various devastating impacts of plastic production, including environmental justice, with the high concentrations of petrochemical facilities that manufacture plastics situated in low-income areas and near ecologically sensitive ecozones such as wetlands and coastal areas. Microplastics are now identified in plant cellulose, our lungs, heart, stomach, and digestive system; even in our brains, breastmilk, and the placentas of unborn babies. The health impacts include neurodevelopmental and metabolic disorders, cancers, cardiac, respiratory and hormonal diseases.

Plastic, The New Coal, will present the work of approximately twenty artists, including participants in an online Plastics Dialogue since fall 2021. Artists and their works will be selected by an Indigenous curator in New Orleans who has extensive knowledge of the activities of plastic producers that have been relentless in their pursuit to develop plants along the Louisiana chemical corridor, the country's largest hot spot for cancer risk. BASF Corp and Union Carbide are among the top emitters of carcinogenic chemicals, and the proposed Formosa Plastics Sunshine Plant has plans for expansion, including 16 separate facilities spread across 2,400 acres, where they will produce resins and polymers used to manufacture products like single-use plastic bags and artificial turf.

Representative artists who are research-based, collaborate with scientists and planners, include: Hannah Chalew, whose work connects fossil fuel extraction and plastic production to their roots in white supremacy, colonization, and capitalism; visually resembles ecological networks as walls sculptures and freestanding installations composed of handmade paper, plastics, and industrial detritus. Heather Bird Harris, formerly a resident of New Orleans, paints with pigments from soils indigenous to disturbed sites by utilizing early maps of coastlines and disappearing land, altered by industrial expansion and contamination along the Mississippi River as it enters the Gulf of Mexico. Pam Longobardi's Drifters Project, now a global collaborative entity, has removed tens of thousands of pounds of vagrant plastic from natural environments and re-situated individual pieces such as body care packaging, fishing nets and floats, industrial parts, and items formed by their journeys and built into large-scale totemic sculptural installations.

We are interested in exhibiting Plastic, The New Coal, at an alternative venue in New Orleans. The approximately twenty artists selected will include BIPOC artists, artists from the South, and artists from across the United States. The works selected will include sculpture, painting, video, installation, and performance, examining different aspects of the vast implications of plastic production and Indigenous Knowledge.
Monique Verdin is an artist and storyteller documenting relationships between environment, culture, and climate in southeast Louisiana. She?s a citizen of the Houma Nation, director of The Land Memory Bank & Seed Exchange, and the Women?s Earth and Climate Action Network's Gulf South sovereignty program manager.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.