V&A Dundee

Plastic: Inside the Exhibition

Take a sneak peak inside one of the most important exhibitions you will likely ever see.

Plastic: Remaking Our World will feature prototypes, new technologies, and cutting-edge materials as designers grapple with a material that has changed our world.

The exhibition features product design, graphics, architecture and fashion from the collections of the V&A and Vitra Design Museum, as well as collections all over the world. This is the first exhibition produced and curated by V&A Dundee, the Vitra Design Museum and maat, Lisbon, with curators from V&A South Kensington.

"Smartly curated, beautifully presented, thoroughly engaging and ecologically conscientious, this exhibition is as impressive as it is timely."

Mark Brown - The National

Exhibition Trailer

“We look out to the world today and think what are the pressing problems around this material and how can we, through this exhibition, offer a broader wider understanding – and with that the understanding to go out and change the world."

Corinna Gardner - The Afternoon Show

Plastic Lab

Plastic Lab is an interactive space to learn, question, challenge and act on some of the most important issues relating to plastic today and to explore themes and ideas from our current major exhibition, Plastic. Remaking Our World.

Plastics have shaped our daily lives like no other material: from packaging to footwear, from household goods to furniture, from cars to architecture. Once a symbol of carefree consumerism and revolutionary innovation, plastic today is under the spotlight for its inescapable role in the plastic pollution crisis and climate change.

Plastic Lab invites you to explore the promise and problem of plastic. From board games and waste sorting stations to pop-up talks and workshops, join us to learn more about how this globally ubiquitous material has changed our world and what we can do as individuals, and as a society, to tackle the unparalleled rise in plastic production, consumption and disposal.

Take action by writing your own plastic pledges, join us for a dynamic programme of talks, events, school and community sessions and get involved with the Precious Plastic workshop to reuse and recycle plastic in creative ways – all with the aim of understanding this innovative but contested material.

three machines that recycle single-use plastics into other plastic products

“Now is the time for us to ask what the future of plastic looks like, so this exhibition is an amazing opportunity to gain a better insight into this fascinating material, whilst leaving with a clearer idea of what that future may look like.”

Laura Young - @LessWasteLaura

Synthetica

Plastics created from natural materials have been around for thousands of years. Used for decorative purposes, materials such as ivory and horn enhanced the appearance and value of objects. Industrialisation and rising incomes in the late nineteenth century increased demand for natural plastics and kindled interest in new materials that could replace or even outperform materials sourced from nature.

Just as today, plastics were a geopolitical issue at the end of the nineteenth century. The colonial networks of Western European countries exploited the peoples and lands of the Global South. The enormous demand for materials like ivory or natural rubber, for example, resulted in shortages of supply on the markets. This vast over-extraction of natural resources led to the near-extinction of some species. The hope was, that early man-made plastics like Parkesine and Casein would offer the natural world a reprieve.

In the early twentieth century, advances in material experimentation led to the invention of fully synthetic materials and the arrival of a wealth of new possibilities.

“Coming to see this exhibition will open your eyes to the various ways that you maybe don’t know that plastics are part of your life, whilst showing some of the new ways we can innovate with sustainable alternatives in a beautiful and striking way."

Finlay Wilson - The Kilted Yogi

KALPA

This immersive film installation is a journey through geological, deep time. From the emergence of micro-scopic life in the earth’s oceans, to the discovery of oil two billion years later.

The second half of the film documents the ubiquity of plastic products and waste, and the devastating impact of microplastics on the world’s marine ecosystem.

KALPA draws attention to the stark reality that while fossil fuels took some 2 billion years to form, plastic, made from oil, has caused irreversible damage to the planet in only a fraction of the time.

Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube accompanies the film. This waltz was performed at the 1867 Paris Exposition, where the semi-synthetic plastic “Parkesine” won a silver medal and gave birth to the plastics industry.

The title Kalpa is a Sanskrit word referring to a period of time in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. It spans the creation, destruction, and recreation of the world.

Visitors watching a film about plastic on three large screens
Asif Khan Studio

Plasticene

In the second half of the twentieth century, mass-production processes such as injection moulding and vacuum forming enabled limitless design possibilities. The aims of the plastics industry focused on mass-production and single use items fueled a throw-away culture.

From 1970 to the present day, annual plastic production globally has increased eightfold to 400 million tons. More than half of the plastic produced to date has been manufactured since 2000. Plastics permeate all areas of life, from food packaging to electrical appliances, from furniture to cars and aircraft, from clothing to architecture. Medicine is dependent on plastic now.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, the vast amount of plastic—much of it encountered as litter— awakened concern for the planet. Within a few decades, the public image of plastic shifted from a visionary, democratic material full of possibility to one that is deeply contested.

Visitors walking around an exhibition space with vintage plastic objects made from materials like Bakelite, Casein and
Asif Khan Studio

Re-

What was once considered a blessing— the durability and resistance of plastic—turns out to be a curse. From exported waste and littered beaches to microplastics found on mountain peaks and in the depths of the world’s oceans, the fatal impact of plastic on people’s lives and the planet dominates the news.

Scientists, designers, activists, and legislators are leading efforts to find new ways to address and reduce pollution. To achieve a circular plastics economy the production of single-use plastics must be reduced, and objects need to be designed for reuse, repair, or recycling. Plastics based on renewable resources and biodegradable materials must come to the fore and society’s relationship with plastics needs urgent rethinking.

There is no single solution. Multiple approaches—local and global, individual and societal—are needed to tackle the plastic crisis. Plastics manufacturers must be held accountable for what happens to their products after use. Designers must consider the whole lifecycle of a product. Consumers must influence the industry through their choices. Legislators must set in place regulations and create incentives to enable alternative approaches of all types to break into the market.

Collectively we must remake our world.

A brightly lit exhibition space featuring modern objects made from biodegradable plastics
Mick McGurk