Tang collects 4,000 bottles

Posted by Tegan O'Neill

The exhibit "Environment and Object in Recent African Art" will be on display at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery after winter break from Feb. 5-July 1, 2011, but not without the help of the entire Skidmore community.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, which will be created by Nigerian artist Bright Ugochukwu Eke, will be a site-specific installation made up entirely of plastic water bottles.

In order to collect the 4,000 bottles needed for the installation, collection boxes have been placed around campus. There are boxes in the dorms, academic buildings, the dining hall and in Case Center.

Posters of an image of a plastic water bottle with the words, "Save Us" superimposed on it and a message reading, "Help Us Make Art" written below advertise the collection effort.

The three-week-long collection period began on Dec. 1 and will continue through Dec. 22.  

"It is an interesting project because it needs the support of a huge pool of people for its realization," curatorial assistant Megan Hyde said of the project.

The show's curators have partnered with the Environmental Action Committee as well as the dorm Eco Reps in organizing the bottle collection effort.  In addition to the collection boxes placed  around campus, various bottle drives will be conducted in Northwoods.

"It brings meaning to the project for people to actually be able to see the bottles that they donated in an art project at the Tang," said Amanda Hawkins '12, a student worker in the Tang.

The 4,000 plastic bottles will be used to construct walls of water bottles that mimic the pattern of waterways.  It will be a maze of plastic that viewers can walk through.  "Bright takes objects of everyday use and makes something meaningful and gorgeous out of them," Hyde said.  

Eke intends his work to inspire people to examine the connection humans have with the environment.  He is concerned that humans are disconnected from the environment.  The use of recycled plastic water bottles is meant to draw attention to the ethical problems of this disconnect.  

The fact that 4,000 bottles can easily be collected in a three week period on a small college campus represents the tremendous amount of resources that are consumed every day.

Eke has chosen to concentrate on water because it is a resource held in common by everyone on the planet; however, not everyone on the planet has equal access to it.

  Many areas of the African continent are plagued by a lack of clean, safe water.  Because of a lack of proper sanitation and contamination from industrial waste, people are forced to import plastic water bottles.

In addition to Eke's piece, the exhibit will feature sculptures, photographs, paintings and videos by a wide range of contemporary African artists including El Anatsui, Zwelethu Mthethwa, Yinka Shonibare, George Osodi and Nnenna Okore.  

The pieces in the exhibit address the issues of deforestation, deserted coal mining operations, scarce clean water supplies and the cloud of conflict that shadows the oil industry.

The art shows the relationship between people living in Africa and the environment they are living in, as well as the relationship that Africa has with the western world.

Many of the pieces comment on the lasting colonial impact and draw attention to the question of who is taking and using Africa's natural resources.

"There is certainly an urgent agenda inherent in this exhibition," Hawkins said. Bright Ugochukwu Eke will begin his residency at Skidmore in early January to install the centerpiece.

First-year thought matters: FYE students exhibit projects a semester in-the-making

What is in store for Zankel?: Examining the potential of the Music Center as a cental building on campus