Indoor Urban Adventure: Trash Art "Hidden in Plain Sight"

Seattle artist Maria Phillips' thought-provoking exhibit "Hidden in Plain Sight" at the Bellevue Arts Museum transforms items destined for the landfill into striking works of art and challenges us to think about our planet's future.
Gabrielle Orsi Gabrielle Orsi
Foothills Branch Leader & Super Volunteer
November 11, 2019
Indoor Urban Adventure: Trash Art "Hidden in Plain Sight"
Feedback Cycle - Alki #7. Six-pack plastic rings, cigarette butts, other plastic collected on Alki Beach. Art by Maria Phillips, photo by Gabrielle Orsi

Bellevue Arts Museum currently is hosting a thought-provoking exhibit titled "Hidden in Plain Sight" by Seattle-based artist Maria Phillips.  Intrigued by the idea of "art from trash", I went on an urban adventure to check it out.

The exhibit is inspired by the five months Maria spent as the Artist in Residence at Recology CleanScapes, where much of King County’s recycling is processed. The 75,000-square-foot material recovery facility (MRF) in South Seattle processes commercial and residential commingled recyclable materials. More than 90,000 tons of waste move through the facility each year.

One of the artworks that I found the most striking was Undercurrent: Plasticene, a huge quilt constructed from the snack bags and other single-use plastic materials that Phillilp's own household discarded over the course of a year. None of these materials can be recycled.

"Plasticene" is a name inspired by the ubiquity of plastics on earth. It plays on the term "Anthropocene," a proposed name for our current geological epoch to reflect the importance and extent of human activity on our environment. 

Artwork by Maria Phillips created from her household's plastic waste

Above and below: two views of Undercurrent: Plasticene.

Artwork by Maria Phillips made from plastic trash

Phillips also gathered plastic trash from around the globe to create art for this exhibit. Feedback Cycle- Iceland #6, shown below, was created from trash found in Iceland. 

Artwork by Maria Phillips featuring plastic trash from Iceland

Closer to home, Feedback Cycle - Alki #7 features six-pack plastic rings, cigarette butts, and other plastic collected on Alki Beach. 

Feedback Cycle - Alki #7. Six-pack plastic rings, cigarette butts, other plastic collected on Alki Beach. Art by Maria Phillips

Phillips, previously recognized for her work in sculpting metal, found her time at the MRF "eye opening, wildly overwhelming, but also energizing... It opened my eyes to the global issue of recycling and in doing so redirected my work, my attitude, and my understanding of this vast global system. I am working hard to understand my role, how I can help other people see the urgent need to recognize their part in this system. I want to expose the pervasiveness of the material waste and our offhanded daily contributions."

"Hidden in Plain Sight" is at the Bellevue Arts Museum now through March 8, 2020. Free tickets are available on the first Friday of the month as well as through King County Library System's museum pass program.

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