A single bread tag on its own will often pass as mundane, harmless or unimportant. Still, when standing amongst the installation created by artist Shani Nottingham, it’s safe to say that these are not the words that come to mind when multiplied and compiled together; they become monumental and overwhelming. Comprised of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of salvaged bread tags donated, found and collected worldwide, Nottingham has created an artificial environment. This ultra- dimensional world mimics and echoes our natural and built environment, exposing mass waste, consumption, and environmental impact.
Painstakingly one by one, each bread tag is threaded onto strands of wire, repurposed lamp shades or melted together to recreate this imaginative artificial landscape. Her medium of choice, what Nottingham defines as ‘artefacts’, was mass-produced (in plastic) for a single purpose; they weren’t seen as problems but as problem solvers. In hindsight, we now know that bread tags are part of the larger problem of broad plastic pollution. A Lot of Little Nothings was Nottingham’s direct response to this. Beginning as an idea of what possibilities could come from an abundance of a single material and what they could be transformed and repurposed into, the artist became entranced by the reaction of shock and amazement from the viewer, embedding this within the creative process.
Nottingham’s practice has spanned two decades, often utilising second-hand materials sourced from op shops, found or donated by people worldwide to create works that explore what happens to the value of waste once it is collected and repurposed. In work A Colourful Efflorescence, Nottingham has melted together hundreds of bread tags to produce floral blossoms. By changing the purpose of the bread tag, taking it out of its initial context and creating aesthetic decorative sculptures, Nottingham is challenging our perceptions around re-use and the potentials inherent to materials. Nottingham has extended the life span of these objects and repurposed not just the form of the artefact but also its cultural value.
This concept has been practised historically by artists like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp and, more recently, Mandy Barker and Donna Marcus. Within each of their practices, they have removed objects from their everyday context, refurbished and collated them to create new forms, addressing core social or political concerns prescient for each era. For Nottingham, the need to increase awareness and behavioural changes on an individual level about pollution as a result of the consumerist culture now defines the modern era. By creating these thought- provoking sculptures, Nottingham is actively transforming the blight of plastic pollution into works of art that speak to us on a human level to evoke an emotive response.
Ultimately Nottingham's intent behind using this medium as a conduit is to shift human perceptions regarding the life span of objects; to look beyond what their initial purpose whether it be their function or materiality, so that they have a second and third life, where we are actively up-cycling as we move towards a more sustainable future. By creating these whimsical and imaginative sculptures, such as the Plasticus Organicus Incrementums installation or the dunes in Accumulatus (shaped as mountains), Nottingham has created a space that overwhelms the senses and instigates the human desire to explore, self-reflect and reassess our actions that have caused environmental impacts. This is a deliberate outcome of the work on Nottingham's part, as a single bread tag can be overlooked, but compiling a vast quantity in a single space, it is very hard to ignore what is being presented to us; it's a reflection of past mistakes and potentially future ones to come.
A Lot of Little Nothings is a body of work that evokes conversation around the hyper abundance of materials; these painstaking creations are filled with knowledge and lessons that can enrich our lives and our approach to disposability of materials - the second-life possibility of objects; the sheer mass of bread tags alone forces us to question modern living practices of over consumption and overproduction. But through the creation of these beautiful works, Nottinghamadvocates looking beyond the mundane and towards the potentiality.
Mariam Abboud, Curator
As small pieces of single-use plastic, bread- tags are an abundant waste material, a polluting product that I reclaim and transform, moving past their initial purpose and life span to become something that has value and meaning, provoking responses and creating a space for dialogue about single-use plastic and waste.
Whatever the medium, I am continually drawn to pattern, colour, line and repetition. The theme of collecting is consistent, too, as I find solace and joy in the process of creating order from chaos, observing similarities and disparities. Through my work, I seek out small elements of beauty and interest in everyday life, of finding moments and objects that can either bind, comfort and hold us or confront and surprise us.
From The exhibiton A Lot Of Little Nothings,
Western Plains Cultural Centre Dubbo
March- May 2023
developed as part of the Homeground Program
Dubbo Regional Council