There is much debate about whether we have now entered the Anthropocene – a geological epoch in which human activity is the dominant influence on the environment. In her first UK solo show, Aude Pariset both critiques the systems perpetuating this human damage and floats potential solutions via home-manufactured bioplastics and living sculptures that evolve for the duration of the exhibition.
In ‘GREENHOUSES’, giant mealworms writhe on panels of baby blue Styrofoam jammed tight within a white under-bed storage unit. In places they have burrowed down into the plastic, mouths first. The morio worms in the adjacent room have made much better progress, feasting on white and grey polystyrene and reducing it to a honeycomb landscape. There is something abject in watching these creatures wriggle and also something of the vanitas in observing their powers of decomposition. Last year scientists discovered that mealworms eat plastic, excreting small pellets that can be used as soil for crops. There is hope that the key to solving the global plastic waste crisis lies with these creatures or at least with the enzymes contained within their digestive systems.
On the walls of the exhibition, wooden stretchers of a uniform size are covered with opaque bioplastic. This cloudy surface is speckled with trapped dust and hairs – a scruffy makeshift appearance far removed from the shiny perfection associated with the word ‘plastic’. This material was created by Pariset from agar, primarily derived from two types of seaweed. It is another technique that may signal the end of plastic pollution.
Fragments of photographic images UV-printed onto bioplastic are fixed to these panels: here a man’s hand on the bridle of a horse, there another resting on the wheel of a speedboat. Even in these fractured glimpses this is recognisable as imagery of the wealthy elite, one that is conjured to sell luxury watches and diamond jewellery. A slogan from one Swiss watch brand comes to mind: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation.”
The investment that Pariset suggests through the treatment of these images and the nearby mealworms is a more practical and urgent one: an investment in a new tradition of ecologically sustainable attitudes towards waste and material production. This would allow future generations to inherit the planet we are so far failing to preserve.
The third element of the exhibition is a pair of mysterious black cranks fixed to the wall which resemble miniature steering wheels and are titled ‘Petite SUV I’ and ‘Petite SUV II’. They echo the sports car steering wheel and boat helm glimpsed in the advertising fragments, further referencing the leisure pursuits of the absurdly wealthy.
The debris caught alongside the photographic fragments on Pariset’s bioplastic includes mealworms and their discarded skin, fishing lures, seaweed and condoms – flotsam and jetsam from a polluted shoreline. The use of condoms alongside titles such as ‘Stallion Dad’ and ‘Mother Cougar’ – allude to the damaged fecundity of the ocean. More widely the titles point toward the privileges of deciding what we preserve and what we pass on.