Our plastic intake has never felt more under the spotlight. Whether it’s large corporations making important steps to decrease their use of the material (McDonalds announced a ban on plastic straws this week) or individuals making a conscious decision to cut down, it feels like a pivotal time for this global issue. The message that plastic is causing long-term devastation to our oceans and environment is being conveyed through all means - including art. Which is why we were excited to see the launch of rubbish_1 at Soft Opening in Piccadilly Circus - an exhibition by fashion photographer Harley Weir and artist and poet Wilson Oryema.
When Harley moved to Peckham in 2015 she was shocked at the amount of rubbish lying around the streets near her south London home. She began digitally archiving the strewn plastic bags and empty bottles she spotted around the area, taking pictures and publishing them on her rubbish_1.2 Instagram. The obsession became a mini project for the photographer, who has since become a passionate voice on the subject and has even taken steps to living a zero waste lifestyle herself.
“I don’t set foot in a supermarket, unless I am coerced by friends” she told AnOther, “I shop at the greengrocers, buy in bulk or from refillable shops, where I can bring my own containers, and markets. The food I eat is so much better and I’m not forced to buy tasteless plastic-enriched produce.”
The accumulation of images has formed a body of work that makes up the new exhibition, which features poems by Wilson Oryema that address our problematic relationship towards waste and consumption. The photography itself is straight to the point - crinkled waste clogging up wire fences, crisp packets and plastic bags mounded on top of one another, masking tap and styrofoam in a tangled mess. Part of the reason we have always been drawn to Harley’s work is down to her ability to capture unique subjects in a way that’s both real and thought-provoking, and rubbish_1 is no different.
At the core of the exhibition is a clear statement about plastic waste. This month, the chief of the UN warned that “If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish” - a stark and scary warning. However, there have been positive developments. A nationwide ‘plastic pact’ has been made by over 40 major UK businesses who have pledged to eradicate single-use plastics in their packaging and on a smaller level, we are all considering our consumption in a more eco-minded way; whether that’s with a reusable coffee cup or trying to avoid supermarkets.
“It’s really simple - it’s just about having a less wasteful lifestyle and also about people taking responsibility for their actions” Harley explained to Dazed, “I like that in the images you can see those really normal brands that you just throw away, that you don’t think twice about.”
The exhibition runs until 1st July and 50% of sales from the accompanying book and prints from rubbish_1 will be donated to the Great British Beach Clean, initiated by the Marine Conservation Society. Art has always been a powerful way to visually speak about a topic that’s high on society’s agenda and it’s great to see a London-based photographer who’s work we love join in on the conversation in such an impactful way. After too many decades of over-consumption, plastic is finally getting an unwrapping.
rubbish_1 at Soft Opening, until 1st July 2018
Words: Lucy Vincent
All images: Harley Weir