University of Michigan hosts smelly art installation


Art installation creator Robin Frohardt made thousands of products out of plastic waste from New York City’s streets and rubbish bins for the fresh produce section of the Plastic Bag Store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Image: Eric Woodhams

By Audrey Richardson

Straight from the rubbish bins of New York, a new Ann Arbor, Michigan, art exhibition criticizes the overuse of plastic.

The Plastic Bag Store is an entire grocery store made of plastic waste and filled with cheeky packaging and ironic product titles. The University of Michigan exhibit poses questions about over consumption, over packaging and our legacy as a human race.

Creator Robin Frohardt said trips to the grocery store inspired her.

“I was noticing the ridiculousness of how much packaging is being used and thrown away, so I thought it’d be funny to make something even more ridiculous,” she said.

Frohardt plays on the names of products. For example, Kellogg’s Eggo Waffles are now “Baggo,” accompanied by the slogan, “hot melting bags in the morning!”

The exhibition also offers an immersive film and puppetry experience that addresses what archeologists of the future will think our values are today.

“You start to imagine what people in the future might think of all this stuff when they excavate it,” Frohardt said. “They might totally misinterpret what these items were and what they meant to us.”

The Plastic Bag Store was brought to Ann Arbor by four University of Michigan partners: The University Musical Society, The Graham Sustainability Institute, the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Office of the President Arts Initiative.

“This project really provides a leverage for organizations to be more actively involved, and engage the community into big societal issues of our time,” said Sara Billman, vice president of marketing and communications for the University Musical Society.

“As a work of art, it’s totally amazing,” Billmann said. “Everything is a little bit ironic, even to the point where you can turn it over and see the ingredient list, which says, ‘contains bottle caps, straws, Starbucks stir strops.’”

Collaborating ensured more people heard about the installation and created a greater audience at the production, said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute.

Combining science with artwork is an essential part of addressing the plastic pollution problem, Haverkamp said.

“The wicked problems that we are facing in sustainability can’t be solved by science alone,” she said.

Frohardt agrees: The installation gets “more people’s hearts involved, not just their minds.”

“I think it takes all kinds of people working together,” she said.

The collaboration between the university partners has also spurred a panel presentation about solving the single-use plastic problem hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Art on Jan. 30 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Helmut Stern Auditorium.

The discussion will “help reinforce the messages of the art and have people learn more about the problem,” Haverkamp said.

As for the store, “it’s something that you can appreciate on a superficial level, but it’s also something that resonates on a much deeper level and will, hopefully, ultimately change behaviors,” Billmann said.

The bakery section at the Plastic Bag Store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, features a bubble wrap frosted cake and cupcakes with bottle cap decor. Image: Eric Woodhams

After visiting the Plastic Bag Store, Frohardt said she wants people to walk into a normal grocery store with a different perspective.

“I hope that people will have a deeper understanding, or a deeper context, in how our present day actions can impact the far-far future,” she said.

You can visit The Plastic Bag Store at The 777 Building on University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor until Feb. 5. You can buy tickets Wednesday through Sunday.

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