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UCL Public Engagement Blog



Humans Make Plastic…and then what?!

By Briony Fleming, on 25 July 2019

This Blog has been written by Camilla Brendon, a London based artist. Currently in residency at Chisenhale Studios in Tower Hamlets. Camilla worked with the Community Engagement team on a project, looking at plastics and sustainability in 2018. She tells us about what has happened since.

I started working with UCL in 2018 when I answered an open call from Bow Arts Trust, looking for artists working with plastics, activism and the Lower Lea valley to lead a series of workshops for residents local to the Lea, scientists, artists and other interested parties. I responded with a proposal to make mobiles out of plastics found in and around the Lea along with other plastics and sculptural materials.

UCL researchers and east London artists create plastic scultpure as part of a workshop at Bow Arts Trust

UCL researchers and east London artists create plastic sculpture as part of a workshop at Bow Arts Trust.

I lead the workshop, later named by participants  as ‘Humans Make Plastic’ (HMP), at Bow Arts, Here East and the Bloomsbury Festival. The workshops were good because they were very relaxed and for mixed interests, ages and abilities. I like to use found and recycled objects and an open approach to making as a tool for wider dialogue into our consumption patterns and use of materials as a whole. Whilst working on the HMP project I had spent several days in my studio, combining individual works into a single sculpture. I chose to weave in large sections of bright plastics to make the work more unified and aesthetically pleasing. Working with UCL researchers lead me to learn a lot about how plastic decays and how much about its make up is still unknown. I now realise how much science and art can help each other and am looking for further collaborations with scientists in the fields of plastic research and marine biology.

Bloomsbury Festival workshop participant holds brightly coloured plastic

Workshop participant holds brightly coloured plastic.

The final workshop for Humans Make Plastic took place at the Bloomsbury Festival in October 2018. HMP was exhibited at Kindred Studios, Queens Park and also at the Lexi, Kensal Rise in a solo show of Coast that finished in January this year. Since I first worked with UCL I’ve become increasingly involved with art that highlights waterway and ocean issues. Inspired by this, I have completed a ‘Leading a Waterway Clean Up’ course with Thames 21 and have begun to incorporate canal cleans with art workshops that I lead.

Workshop participants show the mobiles they made from plastic pollution.

Two workshop participants show the mobiles they made.


Workshop participants creating mobiles made from plastic pollution

Workshop participants creating mobiles made from plastic pollution.

The next one planned is on July 25th at Chisenhale Studios, where I am currently the artist in residence, making work for my project ‘Coast’ (which explores coastlines, rivers, canal systems and wetlands and looks at how the natural and man-made exist together) around the Hertford Union Canal. My residency finishes in mid August and I have a talk on the 1st August from 6.30-8pm and a show opening on the 8th from 6-9pm and then on the 9th and 10th from 12-8pm. All events are free and you can secure your place on my website.

framed paper created using plastic found in east London waterways

Paper created using plastic found in east London waterways is framed as part of the exhibition.

I am also preparing for the opening of Regents Canal – unnatural river, which opened The Barge House, on the 23rd July, it’s part of London National Park City week and I gave a free talk on HMP and my wider artistic practice for the opening. The show runs during cafe opening hours until the 28th of July.

Camilla Brendon hangs plastic scultpures in her studio

Camilla Brendon hangs plastic scultpures in an exhibition space.

Later on in the year I’m going sailing with a marine biologist who now works in ocean publishing to research plastics and ocean acidification. We then will collaborate to put our findings into words and fine art. We are currently looking for practicing marine biologists to join in our collaboration.

Working with UCL has taught me the scope that artists have and how there are many ways to make art outside the traditional white wall setting. I’ve also become more confident with trying new concepts and leading workshops. I’d recommend that researchers meet artists to check that their ideas and personalities are compatible before beginning a collaboration. Having an informal workshop like HMP facilitated by UCL and an arts foundation like Bow Arts is ideal for networking.

Find out more about Camilla and her work on her website: https://www.camillabrendon.com/.

Book your free place at the next workshop or artists talks: https://www.camillabrendon.com/new-events .


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