Introductory Essay for Plastics (a book of photographs by Michael J. Fox, Heavy Time x Perimeter Editions, 2018)
Polymeric, polymorphous, omnipresent, a versatile blessing and an immutable curse, plastic shapeshifts into every facet of our lives. Sometimes it is private, intimate and sensual, at other times public and grand. And true to its transmogrifying nature, some pictures have energy and movement and seem to change under the viewer’s gaze, while photographs taken in public spaces are still, stricken, as if held under a fairy tale spell. In these images plastic protects as it prohibits. And we are both within and without.
Splendour is found in that most dependable, derided and quotidian of objects: the plastic bag. Here are shapes as myriad as the potentialities of the substance itself. Surfaces are bent, tucked and crumpled, its forms amorphous. Though plastic remains stubbornly, troublingly resistant to decay, here it’s ephemeral, even ethereal, its effect like sands shifting at the mercy of the wind or light playing on the surface of the sea. We look for meaning and image within the abstraction as if searching for animals or faces in the clouds. And here we find the same subtle and infinite mutations of colour, the same nebulous glow. We are within, and the effect is almost smothering. Or we are underwater and looking to the surface where light and colour and movement are refracted and transformed. Plastic becomes skin, emptied of colour and etched with wrinkles or a membrane coursing with a venous web of red. Are we in a womb? So fragile and yet protective: a comforting claustrophobia.
Then we are outside looking in, exiles from this intimacy. Here plastic conceals, contains and transforms the ordinary world. It offers protection, but not to us. It separates us from what lies beneath or behind. Practical and purposeful, it has tasks to perform. Flowers are muffled against the ravages of winter, a landscape is shrouded and hidden, its reason uncannily elusive. A statue of a naked woman is veiled with a diaphanous sheet of plastic. Is she Salome, set to seduce? Is it modesty that shrouds her nakedness against our gaze? The opacity of the plastic acts as a filter that transforms the stone into pale flesh. She is vulnerable it seems, not monumental. And on closer inspection we suddenly see ourselves, held within an amniotic sac or a chrysalis. Here is no relic of the past but gestation, metamorphosis, new life. Natural juxtaposes the man-made, the ancient abuts the modern. And yet it all feels normal. This is how we live.