Brooklyn artist turns plastic waste into an immersive show in Austin

At first glance, the plastic bag store looks like a regular convenience store with fresh produce, frozen food, and a small bakery. But something is wrong: the tomatoes look oddly fragile; familiar cereal boxes are labeled “Yucky Shards” and “Caps N’Such.” Some items are wrapped in polystyrene and plastic, and closer inspection reveals that everything in the store is plastic.

Puppeteer Robin Frohardt’s popular immersive show opens Saturday, April 2 in Austin, a city chosen for its receptivity to the strange.

“Austin is such a fun city,” says Frohardt. “It seems like the kind of audience that’s totally up for something really weird and new, and wacky. I can just be like, ‘Hey, it’s this weird dark puppet thing.’ I just feel like Austin is going to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, totally.’ »

The pop-up showcase offers lots of fun opportunities for exploration, browsing through the vast inventory made from reclaimed plastic waste. Some products, like cereals, are vehicles for playfully sinister jokes; others are simply surreal. But it’s not just a space to browse nasty wares.

For three or four performances a day, the store is transformed into an immersive theatre. Shelves fold down into seats or reveal projection screens. The audience is welcomed into a freezer and introduced to hidden rooms. A narrative begins to unfold through a three-part film and live performance, presented in different parts of the walkthrough. Corresponding to the past, present and future lives of a hypothetical piece of plastic, the mini-movies bring humor into the often humorless issue of single-use plastic waste.

“It’s not like we take everyone to a grocery store and sit them down and show them a 45-minute educational film about the horrors of plastic,” says Frohardt, who sees the project as a question asked, rather than a push solution. . “I’m not interested in completely confusing people. And I’m not interested in being didactic and shaming people.

Rather than making a few observational jokes, the narrative scenes test reasonable scenarios in absurd contexts: a former civilian invents a strange single-use item; scientists misinterpret the abandoned relics of our present. Frohardt uses these scenes to explore what she calls “misplaced nostalgia,” a tendency to romanticize timelines we haven’t experienced. It has the potential to elevate the plastics we neglect to physical issues we can notice and interact with now.

“We’re going to leave a lot of this behind and people will want to know more about us,” predicts Frohard. “In my puppet show, they find so many. And it was so enduring that they surely thought these things were meant to [be] Very important. Surely they had a great significant value for these people. Otherwise, why would they do the same, if it wasn’t super important? »

The Texas show is a bit different from the iterations in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. It took time to build because Frohardt was waiting to come across plastic waste to fulfill his creative needs or inspire a new product. This southern store sells beef brisket, watermelon and other local produce. Although the artist hasn’t been in town long enough to notice patterns in Austin’s plastics, she laments Topo Chico’s use of plastic bottles.

Models in other cities created cognitive dissonance in Frohardt, who found himself “coveting” certain plastics that were rarer to find. Like many citizens of the modern world, she felt an aversion to the materials she needed to achieve her goals, but was enthusiastic about what they allowed her to do. And as many hope for a future less dependent on plastic, she has found it impossible to live completely without plastic.

Although plastic is forever, this show will only be in Austin until April 17th. Tickets for the installation at Blue Genie Art Bazaar ($5-20 multi-tiered) are on sale now at texasperformingarts.org. Walk-in sales will be available based on capacity.

Bryce K. Locke