Paradox of plastic’s impact on the planet explored in new V&A Dundee exhibition

Debris washed up on coastline across Scotland is going on display as part of new exhibition exploring the impact of plastic on the planet.

Furniture, fashion and footwear have been brought together at V&A Dundee with technological gadgetry, medical and military equipment and retro toys to illustrate plastic’s wide-ranging influence across more than 150 years.

Highlights of the new exhibition, Plastic: Remaking Our World, include an immersive video screen installation showing how plastics are harming the environment around the globe.

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A specially-created beach littered with plastic debris collected by primary school-children on Scotland’s coastlines is on display in one gallery, which reveals nine out of ten items discarded on the country’s beaches contain some kind of plastic.

Logan Stewart, Ava Kiddie, Hannah Webster and Hamish Patterson from Claypotts Primary in Dundee helped launch the new plastics ehibition at the V&A. Picture: Mi chael McGurk
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The exhibition, which runs from Saturday until February 5, examines the “plastic paradox” by looking at how the material became prevalent in everyday lives and workplaces, the huge volumes of plastic being found in rivers and oceans, and how it is being recycled by modern-day manufacturers and producers.

Displays recall the key role plastic played in the Second World War, the space race and early recycling initiatives, as well as ground-breaking designs of chairs, TV sets, telephones and lamps.

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The exhibition also reveals that, every year at present, 1,000 tonnes of plastic are put into Scottish seas, 85,000 tonnes of plastic is either incinerated or put into landfill, and Scots are using 694 million plastic bottles. Just 37 per cent of plastics are believed to be correctly recycled in Scotland.

To coincide with the opening of the plastic exhibition, a major new work of art has been hung above the museum’s lower floor.

This 1966 dress and coat featues in V&A Dundee's new exhibition on plastic.

Glasgow artist Sarah Rose has re-melted recycled plastic bottle lids into thin sheets and joined the scales together to form a structure in the form of a crocodile.

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V&A Dundee said the new exhibition would look at both the history and future of plastic, which it describes as “essential yet superfluous, life-saving and life-threatening, seductive yet dangerous”.

Exhibition curator Charlotte Hale said: “Looking at plastic through the lens of design allows visitors to understand more about its history and why, in a relatively short space of time, it transformed from wonder material to a problem affecting our entire planet.

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"The exhibition shows the evolution of plastic and the changing attitudes to the material from the 1850s through to the present day, ending with a look to the future to explore the different approaches across multiple sectors, to tackling the plastic crisis.”

Debris collected from Scotland's coastline by primary school pupils across Scotland has gone on display at V&A Dundee in a beach installation created for its new plastics exhibition. Picture: Michael McGurk

Director Leonie Bell said: “Plastic can be seen as one of the most successful designs of all time, shaping and saving our lives like no other material over its 150-year history.

"Yet we’re acutely aware of the environmental destruction and waste caused by the mass production and consumerism of plastic. As Scotland’s design museum we want to look at the complex design and social histories of challenges like this, and to look to the future with hope in our collective creativity and innovation.”

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V&A Dundee, which opened in September 2018, had notched up its first million visitors by February 2020, just weeks before the attraction was forced to close by Covid. It has hosted exhibitions on fashion designer Mary Quant, a celebration of nightclubs around the world and Scottish dance choreographer Michael Clark since reopening.

V&A Dundee's latest exhibition explore how plastic has shaped the lives of modern-day generations more than any other material.

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