Pamela Mackenzie
No. 110 – spring-summer 2015

Plastic Undone: Montalti’s Ephemeral Icons

Plastic exists as a significant node in a network of cultural, economic, environmental and political interests. It takes on many roles: domestic servant, caretaker, medical support, kitchen aid, industrial worker. The material is pervasive, yet the cultural sentiment towards it in Anglo-American culture is ambivalent at best. The hostility towards plastic seems to stem largely from its role in disturbing and displacing the natural environment. If there’s one thing plastic definitely is not, it’s natural – at least according to popular opinion.1 In fact, plastic is nearly synonymous with the term “artificial,” anecdotally apparent in our derogatory use of the term “plastic” to describe someone who is fake or overly invested in materialism. As plastic compounds proliferate and appear in increasingly discomforting quantities and locations, its disruptive presence is causing a strong animosity among those who wish to maintain the current order.2 With a dominant ideology of ecology positioned in defence of the natural, our shared cultural enemy is this new artificial adversary. However, if we approach these categories critically – the natural, the artificial – their obvious distinction becomes uncertain. There are many inconsistencies and assumptions underlying how we sort materials into one or the other of these groups of things.

Contemporary Dutch artist Maurizio Montalti directly plays with these categories, and demonstrates significant challenges to their facile recognition. Specifically, his 2010 work Continuous Bodies: The Ephemeral Icon, completed as part of an MFA research project, presents a rich, materially dense sculptural installation that places

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