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Art With A Message: 'In The Bag' On View At Newtown Municipal Center



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The Newtown Environmental Action Team (NEAT), a nonpartisan grassroots organization formed by residents in late 2016, is “a group of people who passionately care about the world we’re leaving for our children. We’re trying to do everything we can to make it a livable world for them,” says Co-Founder Vanessa Villamil.

Ms Villamil — who co-founded NEAT with Lynn Hungaski and Bindy Subramanian — was at Newtown Municipal Center on August 27 to discuss “In The Bag,” an exhibition NEAT is hosting at the town building through late September. NEAT is working in coordination with Newtown Cultural Arts Commission (NCAC) to present the exhibition, which was created by wife and husband Liz Milwe and Peter Wormser of Westport.

It debuted in 2010 at The Nathan Cummings Foundation Gallery in New York City (after the foundation also provided a grant for the exhibition, Ms Milwe said). It has also been presented at The Darien Nature Center; The Puffin Foundation in Teaneck, N.J.; and a green economy and sustainable development conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, among other locations.

Ms Milwe and Susan Kassirer, the latter a member of both NEAT and NCAC, also visited the municipal center on Monday to discuss the exhibition.

“We feel very fortunate to have this here in Newtown,” Ms Villamil said of “In The Bag,” which traces the beginning of the movement to ban single-use plastic bags. The presentation also shows alternative uses to the non-biodegradable material.

“We feel like it will help open people’s eyes to how plastic has harmed the planet, and cut that back,” Ms Villamil said. “There are pieces here that are very useful and very beautiful. They are things of beauty — something we can all enjoy looking at.”

The presentation also celebrates folk art, which Ms Kassirer called “an important form of art.”

“These are non-traditional mediums used to make something beautiful,” Ms Kassirer added. “It shows these beautiful pieces with a very positive message.”

Ms Villamil pointed out that not all plastic is being targeted by NEAT.

“Plastic has a lot of good uses in life,” she said. “We are focused on losing single-use plastic. Something being used all the time versus something for a few minutes … there’s a big difference.”

Three Thematic Segments

There are three aspects to “In The Bag,” Ms Milwe explained. The first is to show different styles of reusable bags and the people who are using them again and again, the second is a collection of photos showing sea life and how it is interacting with single-use plastic bags, and the third presents work by a few contemporary artists who have created items with single-use plastic bags.

Rice bags turned into reusable bags by women in Cambodia hang along one wall. Boys in a co-op in India used scraps of newspaper to create their version of reusable bags, hanging nearby.

Elsewhere are examples of bags created by women in the Philippines, who rolled phone book pages into sticks to create their medium for weaving. Works from eight cooperatives from around the world are presented.

“Designers and businesses are jumping on the bandwagon to promote reusables,” Ms Milwe said, pointing to examples of work by Anya Hindmarch, Blue Q, FIT Artwear, GG2G, Rebagz, and Nahui Ollin, all represented in the exhibition.

Among the contemporary artists represented in “In The Bag” is Miggs Burroughs, whose lenticular image “Jelly Bags” appears from one view to be an underwater view of jellyfish. From a different angle, however, the design shows plastic bags underwater, displaying just how easy it is for creatures to mistake the two — and why turtles, among others, will often begin eating a plastic bag before realizing their mistake.

Sarah Hollis Perry saved the familiar blue plastic sleeves used for home delivery of The New York Times for three years. In 2000, she began weaving them together, creating a full-size armchair and matching ottoman with the 1,000 bags she had on hand. Her piece, “At Home,” is also part of “In The Bag.”

Works by Virginia Fitzgerald, Virginia Fleck, Julian Gilbert, Daniel Lanzilotta, Dan Price, and Dan Steinhilber are also on view.

“Different designers have taken materials like candy wrappers, juice boxes, and ground up propylene bags and created shopping bags with them,” she said, gesturing toward one such example from Blue Q.

Some of the first communities to make a difference are also celebrated. Ms Milwe, who was a member of 4 Westport RTM, which spearheaded the movement to ban plastic bags in that lower Fairfield County city and created panels to educate visitors about the efforts of Ben Kearney, in Coles Bay, Tasmania; Rebecca Hoskin, Modbury, England; Heather Riley, Paia, Hawaii; and Jonathan Cunitz, Gene Seidman, and Jeffrey Weiser, who also led the charge in 2008 to become one of the first communities east of California to ban the use of plastic retail checkout bags.

“There are many others who have banned plastic in their communities,” Ms Milwe said, “but there are a few who really touched me when I heard their story.”

For the presentation in Newtown, designs from a recent NEAT contest co-hosted with Newtown Parks & Recreation are on view. Students in grades 1-12 were invited to create Newtown-specific designs to be printed on reusable bags. Art from the top ten finalists are also on view at the municipal center through September 28.

The exhibition can be viewed weekdays between 7:30 am and 5 pm and when the building is open for evening meetings.

Opening Reception Planned

The public is invited to attend the opening reception for “In The Bag” on Saturday, September 8, from 6 to 8 pm.

First Selectman Daniel Rosenthal will be announcing the winner that evening of the reusable bag design contest.

Once the winner is announced, the public will be able to obtain reusable bags featuring that design. A $5 donation is being requested per bag.

Following the reception, the bags will be available during the Newtown Arts Festival, September 15-16 at Fairfield Hills, according to Ms Villamil. If any remain after that weekend, a few stores in town have shown interest in making them available, she said.

Live music will be performed during the September 8 reception, and Newtown Poet Laureate Lisa Schwartz will read a poem she is crafting for the event.

Included in “In The Bag” is one of Karen Guancione’s panels from her series “Bolsas de Mandado (Market Bags),” constructed from plastic shopping bags from around the globe. The exhibition will have its formal reception Saturday, September 8.  (Bee Photo, Hicks) 

Deceptively lovely, there is a lot more than what meets the eye when viewing Sarah Hollis Perry’s “At Home” or “Jelly Bags” by Miggs Burroughs. Ms Perry wove together thousands of newspaper delivery bags to create the full-size armchair and ottoman in the foreground of these photos. Seen from one angle, Mr Borroughs's lenticular image (different image depending on the viewer's location) illustrates how easy it is for creatures to mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. Both are featured in “In The Bag,” on view at Newtown Municipal Center through September 28.  (Bee Photo, Hicks) 

Made from fully recycled rice and feed bags, these shopping and yoga bags are made by Cambodian women for Gecko Traders. The raw material is salvaged from local markets, then cleaned, gently dyed, and refashioned into fair trade products.  (Bee Photo, Hicks) 

Detail of a mandala by Virginia Fleck, who used hundreds of plastic shopping bags to create the work of art.  (Bee Photo, Hicks) 

“In The Bag” Co-Creator Liz Milwe gestures toward a reusable bag from Tasmania during a walk-though on August 27 of the exhibition that has traveled around the world since its debut in 2010. “It’s really a memory game,” Ms Milwe said of the effort by anyone to begin using reusable bags regularly. “You need to remember to grab them when you’re heading out and do that every time you go somewhere. We really like to think of this as encouraging people to reuse materials.”    (Bee Photo, Hicks) 

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