Mixing Invasive Media to Create Environmental Awareness

…From a distance, the two “life forms” seem to exist in plausible symbiosis. Up close, De Pirro’s ropy tangles look too artful to be a product of nature…
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times

How many times had I stopped to examine this grand old tree with its gnarled and ruptured bark?

I was in awe of its unsettling beauty, utterly engulfed in a web of invasive ivy, with a strangle hold so deeply rooted into the surface; the tree bulged from underneath the vine’s unrelenting grip.

The spark. This is where it began.

Two invasive materials, one organic and the other synthetic, both a human by-product, both wreaking havoc on the environment…but also having the positive potential to inspire.

I began creating these forms using plastic bags – a petroleum-based, environmentally invasive material.  With the help of family, friends and the local community, we reclaimed thousands of tan plastic bags which were cut into strips then crocheted into form.

On site they were twisted, wrapped and crocheted around the tree branches and trunk. This deliberate juxtaposition between organic form and synthetic material is an effort to change attitudes towards waste and the problems which arise from it.

My indoor studio work has been deeply influenced by my outdoor installations. I have developed methods that strengthen and stabilize the fiber. My current sculptures are crocheted fiber that is encapsulated in acrylic and reinforced with steel. I build the structure then create surfaces mimicking those found in nature.

Although the fiber is completely encapsulated, a pebbly texture reads through – revealing the underlying sensuality of the crocheted fiber form. Through this process the work takes on the appearance of stone, concrete or ceramic.

The site specific sculpture flora plastica was created using over 2,000 recycled plastic bags. The bags were contributed by the local community, collected over the past several years. All of the bags were used in their raw state, no dyes or paints were applied; the color is the actual hue of the bag. Each bag was cut into 1 inch strips, creating a synthetic “yarn” that was then crocheted into the various plant and flower forms.

flora plastica was initially suspended 14 feet across the Tacoma Art Museum‘s entry atrium in conjunction with the Flora & Fine Art exhibit. In July 2011 it was re-installed, settling into a new space also within TAM. Keeping this in mind, I designed it in strands or individual components, allowing it to take on various forms, adapting to different situations.

Completing the circle, I then began utilizing the invasive ivy vine as my fiber. I created a series of installations entitled forest weavings.

After removing the vines from the forest, I wove them into nests – a symbol of shelter and protection.

Once each sculpture was dried they were then tucked safely back into the trees.

My intent is to raise awareness about the fact that invasive plant species have contributed to a huge decline in the diversity of our indigenous plants and endangered our native species.

flora plastica will be on view at the Tacoma Art Museum (WA) through December 31, 2011.

Barbara De Pirro
’s work has been commissioned and exhibited nationally and internationally and is part of many private and corporate collections. She has completed public art commissions, both interior and exterior, for Tacoma Art Museum, SpaceWorks Tacoma, Port Angeles Fine Art Center, Museum of Glass, Matzke Sculpture Park and CoCA Seattle, among others. Her work and techniques have been published in many articles, publications and books as well.

For more installation images and information go to: www.depirro.com
and depirro.blogspot.com/2011/06/in-studio-flora-plastica.html

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