Plastic fantastic: Visitors to Button Bay asked to join art project

FERRISBURGH — Visitors to Vermont’s state parks are routinely reminded to dispose of their trash, but over the next two weekends those who make their way to Button Bay State Park in Ferrisburgh are being asked to bring with them at least some discarded items.
Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation officials awarded Burlington artist Rebecca Schwarz a residency at Button Bay that will run Aug. 7 to 9 and 14 to 16, and recycled plastic is a major part of that residency.
Schwarz will hold workshops tentatively scheduled for 2 p.m. those Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the park pool at which she and visitors will transform everyday plastic objects into works of art — or into pieces of one larger work that she will create during and after the residency that will be displayed at Shelburne Farms beginning on Oct. 1.
According to a press release, visitors are asked to bring “1.5 hours of time (and) perhaps a few items of plastics/trash to transform,” while Schwarz will also provide “milk bottles, toy figurines and other objects made from plastic” that she has spent the past four years collecting.
“I’ll have tons of plastic, that’s for sure. And then I’ll be working with what people make,” said Schwarz, who has run similar efforts in libraries and other venues over the past two summers. “I’m not sure how it will all work out, but I want to engage people in making stuff, but certainly by the end of it I’ll have something, even if that means bringing stuff back to my studio and working with it there.”
Schwarz, who has art degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design and Goddard College, said her art is inspired by the environment, and she wants participants to be mindful of the impact of plastic on the natural world as — and even before — they work.
“I hope that people will look at the material around them again. Look twice, look three times, and consider those materials. The materials at the same time are really beautiful and really disgusting,” she said. “It (plastic) is useful … but you can’t ever really recycle plastic. It can only ever be down-cycled. So it’s just looking more carefully at their pattern of using materials and where things go.”
At the plastic workshops, visitors of all ages will be asked to take an object, she said, and “Cut it up and bend it and put it back together in different shapes. I hope they will consider what they will want to create. What do they want? What do they think we need, whether it is realistically or metaphorically.”
She is open to feedback, and hopes to be inspired by visitors.
“I have some ideas,” Schwarz said, listing concepts such as the shape of the watershed, Lake Champlain or the state of Vermont. “But I’m also open to seeing what other people might create and asking people to help me out with putting things together, too.”
When Schwarz is not by the pool during its midafternoon closing hours, she will operate out of a side room at the park’s lakeside nature center. As of earlier this week, she planned to work at the nature center from 2 to 7 p.m. on the two Fridays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. on Sundays, with the plastic workshops near the pool from 2 to 3 p.m. or a little later on the Saturdays and Sundays.
Her time at Button Bay’s nature center will not be spent just working on the overarching plastics project. She has also cut out many slogans and words from plastic products that visitors can arrange on large sheets of paper to create what she calls “packaging poetry.”
Again, Schwarz said, the idea, as well as to have visitors enjoy the experience, is to spark some thought and dialogue.
“When you look at packaging, the wording can be startling, almost. It can be kind of funny, like ‘Smartwater,’ or ‘Powerade,’” she said.
“You start looking at the packaging in your refrigerator and you might get some good laughs or some realization of where we are in this moment in time. So I want to cut up some packaging and have it out there for people to rearrange, or invite people to cut up packaging and invite people to make poetry out of that, or participate in drawing or some written conversation on some big pieces of paper that I’ll have.”
Schwarz said the topic of plastic’s damage to the environment is serious, but the interactions over her two weekends at Button Bay do not have to be.
“I hope people will look at our material culture in new ways, or just look more carefully. I know people, especially people here, are plenty aware of this issue, so I hope this gives them a playful and fun way to look at how we view materials and how we treat materials,” Schwarz said.
“I have all sorts of grandiose visions, and then there’s maybe people will just have a good time together and make something to show their friends and continue the conversation and maybe they even find useful and enjoy. Or make something amazing for me.”
More information about Rebecca Schwarz and her art is available at rebeccaschwarz.com.

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