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Drowning in plastic

Warin Lab Contemporary’s first exhibition hopes to educate visitors about the root cause of environmental problems today — humans

Human consumption of plastics has long been labelled a major cause of today’s environmental problems. To raise awareness about this issue and focus on its real cause, Warin Lab Contemporary is hosting its inaugural art installation titled “Swamped” by four multidisciplinary artists — Thanawat Maneenawa (assemblage), Ploenchan Vinyaratn (textiles), Taweesak Molsawat (sculpture and performance) and Note Panayanggool (sound) — on display at the 100-year-old building on Charoen Krung 36.

Sukontip Prahanpap, the curator of “Swamped”, explained that Warin Lab Contemporary is opening with an exhibition focusing on the environment and that it plans to run similar exhibitions that tackle nature-related and environmental issues throughout the year as she believes it is an urgent matter.

“Environmental problems affect our lives, so it is urgent. For example, one of my family members is sick but cannot exercise outside due to air pollution. We hope after visitors view our messages, they will think about these pressing problems and so the exhibition may bring about some changes. ‘Swamped’ focuses on waste and suggests that plastic is not the main issue since it is humans who control plastic production. While Thanawat focuses on the root cause of environmental problems, Ploenchan presents how waste affects the environment and Taweesak reveals potential solutions. The other artist, Note, connects the entire showcase with sound,” explained Sukontip.

Thanawat, the owner of the Thai creative brand TAM:DA, is known for his creativity. In order to represent humans as the cause of this problem, he created a whimsical assemblage from thrown away plastic he collected for a month. Plastic waste from a variety of items such as combs, pots and mannequins were assembled together to look like faces of men.

“Most people overuse and take plastics for granted since they are widely available and reasonably priced. I collected plastic that had been thrown away to create faces of 65 men. If visitors take a closer look, they will be able to identify plastic pieces such as a brush, a mop, a cup or a dustpan. Making this artwork was enjoyable. I did not reshape any items but simply used each piece to assemble a facial feature. For me, trash is not limited to only thrown away items. It also includes items that we have but never used. We should use each item wisely,” said Thanawat.

With a degree in woven textiles from Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design in London, Ploenchan is the founder of Beyond Living, a soft furnishing and home accessories brand. In “Swamped”, Ploenchan, who always uses textiles as a primary medium, displays how waste affects the environment by weaving waste as an art installation that looks like waves of trash.

“The art pieces were weaved with used materials such as plastic from bottles, A4 paper, leftover threads from textile factories and tin cut from cans. Most of the trash was collected from the sea because I like to travel to the beach. I found many casting nets at these beaches because after fishermen make their catch, they take the fish and leave the casting nets on the beach. I am not an environmentalist but I do not like to throw away things without thinking carefully. I have a blouse that is made from leftover materials from my pillow factory. In ‘Swamped’, weaving unconventional textile materials was challenging, especially sharp material like tin because it can cause cuts on the skin,” said Ploenchan.

Apart from weaving waste, Ploenchan placed coins which she has collected from abroad on the floor. In this case, the artist wanted to imply there is a hidden value of any item — even trash.

“Some coins are no longer in use, however, they are still valuable. Before we throw things out, I would like everyone to think it over. It probably can be used as an art piece or some other recycled item,” Ploenchan added.

Taweesak, an artist, designer and creative researcher, who works on the theme of “solution”, encourages visitors to think and pose questions that scrutinise their actions and the degree of their concerns in resolving the issue of overwhelming trash. Taweesak exhibits object installations and provides a conceptual art performance, Body Politic: Still (A)Li(v/f)e.

In the corner, various sizes of boxes are piled up and next to it, two boxes wrapped with fake Thai gold leaf rest on two separate trays with a pedestal. The question raised here is about the overconsumption of paper and plastic packaging, especially from online shopping.

“Most packaging has a short life span. After a box or bag is opened, it is thrown away. Currently, the problem is overpackaging and this is an international problem. Many Thais order products from Alibaba due to competitive prices and do not care that this brings more trash to the country. We are importing trash into our country. We should use what we have instead of buying new items. My work is not about me but about social participation. The question is how can we extend this message to communities and how to change people’s attitudes. A performance Body Politic: Still (A)Li(v/f)e also raises the question, ‘Will we be alive?’. ‘We’ does not mean just humans but everything on Earth,” said Taweesak.

To connect the works of Thanawat, Ploenchan and Taweesak, Note designed three tracks of ambient music. To do this, she discussed with the three artists what kind of sound they wanted and set out to make the recordings from various sources.

“I recorded sounds of people consuming and chewing for Thanawat’s face sculptures. There are also sounds of complaining since most people are not satisfied with what they have and they always want more. At the waves of waste by Ploenchan, there is also chaotic sound mixed with the sound of a weaving loom.”

“At object installations by Taweesak, visitors will hear sounds of nature that contrast the environmental issue. There are also sensors at the object installations and the closer visitors come to installations, the louder the sounds. This represents how an increase in population can damage the environment,” said Note.

Besides the exhibition, the 2nd floor is selling products made of recycled materials. Thanawat said his products were not created for environmentalists only.

“Fun is the core of my work so visitors won’t feel bored. My brand TAM:DA has products that have been created from recycled materials but my target market is not limited to environmentalists. There is a bag made from a car taillight and customers may like it because it is stylish. It can attract people interested in stylish products or environmentalists,” said Thanawat.

Note believes that art can communicate environmental issues effectively.

“Art is an enjoyable medium which can communicate to visitors’ subconscious minds. They will think unconsciously about environmental issues after this exhibition. The issues are problems for everyone and I will continue to use my social platform to raise awareness about this matter,” concluded Note.

“Swamped” runs at Warin Lab Contemporary, Charoen Krung 36, until April 21. Admission is free. Visit or call 089-120-7292.