This is essentially an action painting – I drafted directly onto the board from November, 2013 through January, 2014. It’s graphite pencil with a background of blended color pencils and the first work in the series ‘Animals Contemplate Climate Change.’ Upon close inspection, one sees the artist at work. Mounted on Masonite. Hand-framed in walnut. I’m showing it during a pop-up art show sponsored by Paper Street Gallery on Saturday, January 18, in the city of Kankakee, Illinois.
I’m working with pencils; I’m at the foothills of the mountains I’m eventually going to climb; my ultimate goal is to draw with pencils as good as the ‘old world masters.’ I anticipate reaching that place in 2014.
This artwork is a stylized representation of a very abstract concept. As an artwork, it is large and ‘wall commanding’ and I consider it one pinnacle construction of a visual style I pursued throughout the previous decade of my life.
I’ve read a freakish amount of science in the past two years.
‘Slaves to electrons’ is a statement about what I’ve concluded is wrong with us.
We are slaves to electrons.
Following the studies of Franklin and deluge of late 19th century innovations in the electrical sciences we learned to harness electrons and transmit them across long distances and at breakneck speeds to all the places we use them – basically everywhere.
What is an electron? It’s a tiny, negatively charged particle that we readily conceptualize as the negative sign. Electrons are born in the bowels of steam turbines and forced into an Conga line that snakes through a myriad of wires and stations and travels up a cord directly into my digital alarm clock, where some excite the materials in a resistor wire and are converted to heat.
Electrons are the blood of our electrical circulatory systems and they must be continually generated or else the grids die. The second the turbines stop, the electrons disappear, the grid dies and everything running on electrons stops.
Electrons themselves aren’t problematic. In various ways we bring electrons into existence to be used to our advantage. Electrons power the laptop into which I type these thoughts.
What’s problematic is how we generate them.
Amongst other ways, we burn a lot of coal to generate electrons.
Coal burns hot, making it good for boiling water. We boil water to create steam. We pipe steam into rotors. Rotors spin turbine shafts. Inside the turbines spin magnets and copper coil. That generates electrons, which flow wholesale away from the plant through all the wires. Electrons run the motor that runs the cooling unit in the underused mall drinking fountain that hums and consumes electrons for mindless days on end without ever having a taker. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second – we waste super-natural sums of electrons in order to power things we are not using.
It’s problematic that we waste electrons when we generate them with coal.
Coal is made mostly of carbon – old atmospheric carbon that had gotten absorbed by ancient plants, trapped in their bodies and sunk deep into the earth two-hundred million years ago. In order to generate electrons we dig up those ancient carbon stores, burn them and free previously inert carbon atoms. A lone carbon atom is unstable. To obtain stability it links with two oxygen atoms. They become one molecule of CO2. Even after we know, mathematically, that through the burning of fossil fuels we create CO2, and that we’ve filled the atmosphere with more CO2 than it can naturally process, we continue to burn more coal and pump more CO2 skyward. Why? Because there’s still a lot of coal and coal generates inexpensive electrons and we are slaves to electrons.
During the few minutes you’ve been reading this, you’ve been consuming electrons or for sure electrons have been consumed nearby you. Everywhere around the globe we generate electrons to consume in our appliances, lights, coolers, homes, businesses, villages and cities. Each next day we ask that an ever-more gross amount of electrons are generated to maintain our incessant and growing demands. And now we require that astronomical amounts electrons be generated to support our vast digital storehouses of primarily hollow information. Our enslavement to electrons is literally killing us, killing other species, destroying habitats, and polluting the atmosphere to the point where the earth’s choked oceans and deforested soils cannot possibly be called upon to absorb any more CO2 than they can naturally absorb, and even as we know this, we refuse to quit generating an increasingly larger and larger amount of electrons. Why? Because we are slaves to electrons.
I wrote and deleted this final paragraph several times. It was my intention to finish with a helpful, hopeful tone, but I kicked over the podium and played some electric guitar and then returned to delete my preachy thoughts and typed this:
ON TEXT IN ART
“The background of ‘Slaves to electrons’ derives from a series of photographs I shot this past summer. During a recently library visit I discovered an inspiring retrospective on Ed Ruscha (roo-SHAY) and Ruscha’s work influenced the appearance of the text. Text on art is contemporarily important because we see text everywhere and our brains are satisfied by text in so many ways; when the right text appears in the right way, text is stimulating.”
Finally – do you want to get sand kicked in your eyes, or are you hip? Below is a link to where you can purchase, for a ridiculously reasonable price, a high quality print of this modern piece. This is the first print of mine ever where I sign it digitally – my digital signature will appear on your print, along with both glossy black bands on top and bottom. How innovative is all that? Get a 4 x6 inch print, buy a self-adhesive magnet and turn your print into refrigerator art. Or scale up and frame your own. Additionally, there’s a message in the text that goes beyond the art. PRINTS HERE: Slaves to electrons prints.
A Chicago Reader article that talks about a performance piece I completed a year ago. Being interviewed by a real reporter was an excellent experience. Having a chance to think aloud and ‘on the record’ about my intentions was beneficial. The article is also well-written. http://www.chicagoreader.com/Bleader/archives/2013/11/20/sort-of-almost-famous-how-chris-shoup-got-his-art-into-a-museum
I’m currently working with graphite pencils. Stylistically, I’m flip-flopping between classically rendered drawings with crisp lines, accurate shadows and realistic tendencies and artful drawings purposefully completed in rough and broad strokes. I’m going to build dramatic portfolios in both styles throughout the next ten years.
“He categorically did not know what to make of their puncture marks and pipelines” comes from the ongoing series ‘Animals contemplate climate change.’ Am I the only one who wonders that they think of contemporary matters?
I was asked to create a poster for my daughter’s school (Catholic, volunteers needed) for their upcoming annual ‘Dueling Pianos’ fundraiser.
“We always use clipart and we want something cooler like original art.” That was the gist of my instructions.
I mulled over a few ideas.
I sketched two pianos in cowboy hats standing atop a great expanse of the American southwest.
I sketched two pianos charging at one another like bulls, each sporting a fancy moustache.
I sketched two pianos standing on a stage, each waving his mono-fist at the other.
“And at a pivotal moment in the night, the pianos began to duel…” was rendered digitally (a first for me) and done in a style unlike my other work. I guess I was thinking about the event being classy then somehow envisioned an art style I’d seen in The New Yorker magazine. I like how an abrupt action has just taken place, and the art defines the moment before the next, greater action takes place.
* Early in the process I looked online for ‘dueling piano’ art so I could get an idea of what to do and found none; therefore I make this art available to anyone needing to make a dueling piano poster. Seriously. Let me fill that niche.
Today is Saturday 1.7.2012. In Illinois, it got up almost to 50 degrees. Normally I’m huddled down inside against freezing winds at this time – but today I was in the sunshine. Without a jacket. Alice played on her swing set.
I’ve been wanted to better define my intention for this blog. Yesterday, when returning from the library, I had the idea flash into my head to photograph a scroll. I would use the scroll to define my goal of using this blog as one long, unbroken scroll documenting my artistic behaviors and intentions since I started writing it in November, 2010. That makes the reading easier (?). No clicking page to page.
Seriously. Scroll down. It’s one long piece and already a long way to the bottom (start at ‘home’ up top) and the geological layers continue to compound with each new post.
It’s quite possible that I know your mom.
She’s a lady, right?
I’m one for one.
I don’t know why she had you.
More often than not, because of nature,
you know? Life reproduces. Life gets together
under a myriad of conditions
and it’s ridiculous to think even half of us
I do know, however, that a sperm
cell (which is essentially a nucleus
and a tail carrying 23 chromosomes)
entered your mom’s womb
touched an egg
Two for two.
I know that in your mom’s womb
you grew a tail
and lost a tail
and grew a neural tube
which made your brain
and spinal cord
and you grew
your heart and digestive tract
and eyes and ears
and arms and legs
and sex organs.
Three for three.
I know that at some point
you left your mom’s womb.
Four for four.
And now you’re grown up,
doing what? Reading my
blog? Reading an online
magazine? Reading a
printed poetry anthology?
It’s quite possible that I know your mom.
I’m selling work at a holiday market today at Kankakee’s beautiful downtown public library. The theme for the artists showing and selling work is “green art.” I created 15 new pieces atop a book of maps I salvaged from my school’s dumpster. The maps were printed by National Geographic in the early 1970′s. Caretta caretta is the scientific name for “loggerhead turtle.”
Narrative art tells a story. Not all artists set out to create such “story-telling” work, but I admire those who do. Diego Rivera painted large murals that overwhelm the senses with details and with the presentation of a story as told from many angles. It’s almost guaranteed that no two viewers will walk away from a Rivera mural having the same interpretation. Mayan, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, Northwestern and Native American cultures kept narrative art amongst them. Their art, ranging from simple images set into specific arrangements that told just the perception of a story, and all the way to detailed images arranged with care to tell a complex story, inspires me. The challenge, though, as an artist, is: “What’s the story of my people?” “How to create narrations of consumers, of environmental polluters, of wage slaves, of perpetual war-mongers through narrative art?” I’d like to be given a viaduct so I can set about creating a large narrative mural that tells the story of local people.
My first attempt at narrative art – at creating art that told a story – involved a drawing I completed with my wife, Amanda. We spent the better part of a winter passing the coldest nights on the living room floor, each working on different aspects of a large piece that not only told the story of the rise and fall of the celebrity in American culture, but also how that story was relished by an audience of insatiable viewers of the event. It turned out great, I built a frame for it and protected it behind glass, and the piece now hangs in our home.
Since that first collaboration, I’ve remained interested in attempted to include simply narratives into my art – and by simple, I mean creating paintings that use a few active elements to create the first beginnings of a story. In one piece I added sunspots above a tree, because I can recall how when, as a kid, I would tromp in the local wetlands on the hottest August days, and sweat would drip into my eyes, so that when I looked up, there would appear, through the beads of sweat, refracted light that always became a bunch of spots. Actually, I was fascinated by the effect of the spots, which is why I remember them.
My current interest in narrative art involves the use of objects represented either as they are for real – or reinterpreted as symbols – and then arranging these elements about a composition so that the “setting” of the piece helps establish a narrative, or simple story. One unseen event in this whole process is that I’m not taking active steps to show, place or sell the work, and it’s starting to build up, which is something I imagine the majority of artists face – that is, an excessive output of work equals the fact that all of the wall space in your home is eventually covered with your own work, and the closets get filled, as does the attic and garage. I think I would like it if one of the contemporarily coined “1 percent” discovers me, likes my work, likes the idea of owning an entire collection of art created by “a commoner” (me) and then sweeps all of my pieces away into his or her collection. Hey, I can dream aloud, right?
And if you haven’t checked out my super-awesome site at www.christophershoup.zenfolio.com please check it out. The resolution of the images there are outstanding.
This is work completed within the past few months. Both were inspired by a trip taken to Bimini with scientists from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium (during the summer of 2010). It was my first experience in the ocean. The coral reefs were fantastic and we visited no fewer than three a day; I got to hover over a swarming, swirling school of silver bar jacks; we went deep into the mangroves right at the tide’s peak, so we got pulled out towards the ocean during the tidal drain; during a night snorkel, a small squid paused before me to change colors in the rays of my underwater flashlight.
I’ve not had many “blog inspirations” lately; my art focus has shifted heavily to my Stratocaster; I’m writing a few essays, most of which will probably never leave my journal; and I’m daydreaming and drafting out a few paintings.
The guy above is Nick LeRoy. I’m not for sure, so don’t quote me on this, but I heard that sometime during a tumultuous snowstorm in February of 2009, LeRoy awoke from the whirls and howls to envision a stage surrounded by cornfields and wind turbines, set somewhere outside Kinsman, Illinois (population 99). On this stage, his favorite regional bands played to a crowd of the same chill festival followers that he was so often a part of, and in this vision the organizer and promoter of the fest was none other than Nick himself. Sometime later, after coffee, he made some calls, found a friend willing to share his family’s farm for a weekend, and the first FarmFest 450 was born. Nick’s third FarmFest 450 was held at that same farm over the weekend of August 19 and 20, 2011, and I was fortunate enough to attend the latter half of the event. I had no idea what to expect. I knew that people would be camped out there for the weekend. I knew I would get to see some important musicians and bands. I knew there would be vegetarian options amongst the vendors. I brought Amanda, a blanket, my camera, a few other peaceful items and my desire to explore.
First, let me say something about the land around the festive. It is open countryside, with ground that rolls like a vacationer’s sea set to mild undulation. From this rising and falling cornscape sprout might gray wind turbines like those that are becoming so visible throughout middle Illinois. To drive on the single lane blacktop to FarmFest 450 is to travel amongst the turbines, and at one point, where one stood near the road, I had to stop and get out so I could see the mammoth object that cannot be reproduced by a photograph. The turbines are awesome to witness and hear in action, and when time fads away their utility, but not their structure, future generations that crossed the burning bridges will marvel at them and wonder what purpose they could have served. Or so I like to believe. Anyhow, they added to my sense of anticipation and excitement for what was to come.
FarmFest 450 had excellent logistics. To the north of the farm estate on which it was located was a large and level grass parking area, and parking was well-managed from entrance to our final designated parking spot—the good service was inviting. There were two camping settlements, each composed of a hodgepodge of tents and gear and relaxed sippers and fire pit cookers and yard game players. Past camping was the stage. It was set at the bottom of a long and wide yard that sloped east, so the western eye of the sun stared into the eyes of the musicians, rather than the audience (musicians accept this professional hazard). The goods that typically followed such festivals were there (you know jewelry, pottery, handcrafted apparel) along with a local bar selling cans of standardized American beer (most folks seemed to have brought their own) and there were many food options. The crowd we encountered upon our 4 o’clock arrival? It was set to a speed somewhere between koala bear and willow sloth. Which was perfect. Which was exactly what I hoped for. Amanda and I fit right in amongst the competitionless seating scheme, finding a great spot to pitch our blanket and offload our bags. As the sun descended behind us, past the farm’s flank of trees, we sat and shared Indian fry bread, drank a bit, listened a lot, intermingled with others between sets and were perfectly happy.
One of our intermingling moments involved meeting and talking with Ezra of Ezra’s Chameleon Kitchen. I would responsibly liken him to a contemporary gypsy, only his mule cart is way more fantastic than a vurdon made from wood and iron nails. Ezra is a studied chef who cooks on the road. His travel trailer is state of the art and partly run by solar panels and a small wind turbine that spins to power a battery bank during highway miles; his energy awareness is great, and his future plan involves him running his complete outfit on renewable resources; he also creates food that tastes local and lovingly prepared and he is health-conscious about his work. Vegan food that tastes like it’s from a small Chicago diner, only you procured it from a grassy oasis between farm fields? Right on. He had along with him the painter Andrew Nelson, who ingeniously designs paintings meant to be viewed and re-interpreted within different spectrums of light.
The first musician I heard was Chicago Farmer. I have a live John Prine album, simply called John Prine Live. It’s is a collection of songs Prine recorded during performances all throughout the seventies. It’s not just his artful, folk story-songs on the album that so engage me; it’s also the simple, short stories he tells on stage prior to starting each song that I love. The recordings make me feel “like I’m there” when I listen, yet rarely do I get out to see a folkish troubadour doing this kind of singing and story telling on stage (the last time was seeing Jeff Tweedy at the Vic). Therefore I was pleasantly thrilled when Chicago Farmer took the stage at 4:45 and like Prine, and in the vein of Tweedy as a solo artist, I found another Illinoisan with his acoustic guitar singing stories and telling stories live on stage. Chicago Farmer’s songs are about things you’d see through a pickup truck window; or through the window of Carl’s Diner in Nowhere Particular, Illinois as you drink your fourth cup of coffee; or through the window of several beers as you sit on a stool amongst a bar crowd. He told me he’d journeyed from a small town to Chicago and back to more small towns. He’s a working musician; his months are tied together with performances and festivals which put him in position to be continuously discovered. I purchased a t-shirt from his merchandise table because I identify with the artwork. I’m also from a small town. I too journeyed to Chicago for some years. I also later returned to my roots.
Chicago Farmer has an effective online presence. Listen to what he does, invest in a some songs because local folk will add depth to your collection and every man deserves a few coins for a song, and then get out of the house and go see him at a festival where he’s playing. You need the fresh air and you’ll like being a part of an engaged crowd.
I assumed there would be people milling about The Steepwater Band after their set, people who were meeting them or waiting to talk to them, so minutes after they finished playing I went down the sloped lawn and around the plastic fencing to the back of the stage, to the area where the bands mingled. I found myself in a spot boxed in by the back of the stage, a van, a porta potty, and a trailer that had been provided for the musicians. It turns out there were not throngs of people crowding Steepwater; on the contrary it was just the three band mates, each engaged in the humble act of breaking down gear before loading it back in the van. Their set was awesome. They are rockers, and the great leap from Chicago Farmer with his solo acoustic on goings and to an amplified three-piece was totally cool. The sudden jumps between genres and volumes is what I most like about local festivals.
I had only listened to a few Steepwater songs online prior to seeing them, when I was previewing who I would see at FarmFest. What I heard in the song “Revelation Sunday” inspired me to find them on YouTube, where I watched a few videos that only confirmed how good they are. Jeff Massey sounds like a cool guy yelling across the tool shed at 7 am because he thinks you misplaced his 5/8” box end wrench; at times his Gibson sounds like the idling engine of a 1978 Camaro; at other times it sounds like the same car peeling out; many songs inspire loud volume listening. A scan through the band’s archived tour schedule from the past decade is crazy; they seemingly play nonstop, with the breaks between shows probably reserved for travel time and limb recuperation.
Backstage I introduced myself to drummer Joe Winters as he broke down drum components. I told him I was an online writer, that I liked their work and I liked that they ended with an excellent version of “Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker. I told him I read they played with Gov’t Mule and Buddy Guy and Wilco and a crowd of other national acts and how I thought that must be cool; Winters told me they recently opened for Tesla at the House of Blues and the New York Dolls at Double Door. He told me they toured Europe and were going again soon. I told him I was reviewing the fest and would mention them. Then I talked to Massey and told him how excellent I thought his guitar playing was during the whole show and how much I liked the John Lee Hooker ending. I got all three of them and the porta potty to poise for a very fine photograph and right as I was about to go catch the guys from Backyard Tire Fire, Winters appeared with a CD of a live performance Steepwater recorded at Double Door and also a copy of their just released album Clava. They were fantastic gifts.
I want to mention their latest album Clava because I listened to it like twenty times in six days. The first three songs compliment one another to make an excellent opening triptych (as a matter of fact I would encourage them to open some shows with these three back to back). Other songs on the album continue Massey’s punctuated riffs played under the influence of the previously described tones; and there is a divergent and reverberating song called “Bury the Burden Deep” that you must listen to loud and through headphones; it works. And it also shows how as a hard-working band they write with a spirit of diversity, because hard-working bands know diversity keeps multiple listener types engaged.
It was exactly the divergent and less guitar-centered songs on Clava that kept sending me back to my past. “What,” I kept thinking, “am I hearing?”
It took me a few days to get to the closing song “Meet Me in the Aftermath,” and when I listened to it, it triggered the synoptic connection. I was hearing Paul Westerberg on Pleased to Meet Me (1987), an album I once totally liked and listened to on cassette tape. So the leap from Chicago Farmer to Steepwater continued to The Replacements. Excellent. I don’t know where you live, but if it’s somewhere, probably Steepwater’s coming within range. See them live, that’s how they best like playing. Add a few tunes or all of Clava to your digital music rotation, because the album will make you pedal your mountain bike harder.
Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts, I did not get to meet you due to the storm that blew up and threatened the entire festival right after your set, which was when I planned to say hello. Most of what I found of you online involved your quest to find backers to pledge for the vinyl album you want to record. Even as great as it will be, I believe your album will be an arrow pointing towards the requirement that you are seen and heard live. On stage there’s movement, microphone switching, instrument switching, songs that climb upwards to stop at little cabins so everyone can catch up, and then when everyone’s accounted for you take them back outside and climb higher. I didn’t catch the name of the song, but you have one with lyrics: “…if I go, crawling back to you, would you take me as I am, or would you take me for a fool…” That song is like looking at a small, sturdy oak tree. You see it’s a good tree, and you imagine how given the right conditions, it could be huge.
Your lineup was right on, giving you the advantage of five talented musicians offering five points of view on the same thing. And then you said goodnight. And left the stage. And then a minute later you all came back on. “Sorry,” you said, noting that you actually had more time. So you just picked up your instruments and at the same exact time burst into the next song like there had been no interruption. And finally at the end, Miles put down his guitar and picked up the microphone, stand and all. He said since it was a festival, he’d end with a true festival closer. I swear when he began to sway about the stage like a man on rough seas I guessed it. They closed their set with Joe Cocker’s festival megastar version of The Beatle’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.” It was so cool, and Miles was a notch more coherent than Cocker (no disrespect, Joe) while his band was note for note alive and raw with the song, even immaculately singing the high parts. Those who weren’t present will have no way to appreciate the whole-band genius that I am describing.
Backyard Tire Fire was scheduled to perform next (sorry if, when I met you, I offended you with the comment about your tiny piano; please know I like the Kink.FM performance of “Good to Be.” The tiny piano apparently stuck out. It was something I felt comfortable referencing when I introduced myself. You told me it was played by Steve Berlin from Los Lobos. Sometimes I’m ridiculous).
But Backyard Tire Fire didn’t play because of the stereostrobic forboding of an approaching storm. A dark mountain, from which came thunder and light, appeared in the west and moved towards Kinsman; people got glued to the satellite images on their hand-held internet interfaces, Amanda didn’t want to stay any longer, and Nick LeRoy came on stage and told us not to panic but that they were covering the stage equipment because of the coming storm so a little bit after 10:00 pm Amanda and I headed out to the truck (with an order of gravy fires from Ezra’s Chameleon Kitchen to eat) and then begin the drive home, staying just ahead of the storm (I did hear that Herbert Wiser Band, the festival closers, got to play a bit after the storm in the garage and that it was a good time).
If you’re up for a great time, if you want to drop in for a day, or lounge through the weekend in a tent pitched at a beautiful grain farm environment while great bands play, then periodically google “FarmFest 450 2012″ to see if Nick LeRoy has the energy and inspiration to put on the festival for the fourth year. I hope he does. The location is a prime spot for a festival and the bands that he’s connected with are hard-working regionals worthy of catching live.
Today president Obama proved himself to be as much a disappointment as I feared, apparently giving his approval to the backwards Keystone XL pipeline, which will secure our future in the past for the next twenty years. Thanks man! And I had a chance to check out Peter Pagast’s progress on his downtown mural. In fact, I was invited to the official unveiling of the mural next Wednesday, which I’ll attend and document, so check back. I mean, all of those “limestone blocks” you see above are painted. That pretty much rocks. And his figure painting is as outstanding as all of the work he created for Philadelphia.
And my own art? Am I doing anything else but blogging? Well, I started back as a teacher again, for my 10th year this year, thank you very much. And the story below this one, about single use plastic bottles, is going to appear on Life Without Plastic and in the online publication Green Chicago Parent. Thanks to both of those outlets for appreciating and further promoting my work! And please know that all of the graphics in the article were made by me, alone, on Microsoft Publisher with the shape tools.
My commission with Riverside Hospital is ridiculous. It’s been a crazy ordeal. I literally first approached the organization in November of 2009, and 22 months later, after numerous submission rejections based on “outrageous content for a hospital setting” or something like that, my approved pieces have been cut down and reconfigured until now, I just hope to get something from almost two years of pursuit. My original goal was to get local art placed in a local, multi-million dollar construction project. Because I was willing to abandon great art, and by that I mean pieces that would draw people to the hospital, I have now given them pieces sure to put runaway elderlys to sleep. It seems like I’ll get a few coins from the work, unless they read this first, before they send me the check. They might decipher my tone of voice and decide to replace my originals with lazy stock designs assured to turn not a single head and incite not one honest dialogue between art and viewer. Oh, I’m sorry. Do I sound bittersweet?
The great news is you should keep checking back because my review of FarmFest 2011 is almost done, and it will include so many fantastic photographs along with a festival review and reviews of Chicago Farmer and The Steepwater Band and Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts and also Ezra’s Chameleon Kitchen. And I’m also working with The City of Kankakee to create a graphics campaign for one of their near-future corporation projects, which will entail the city starting an off-shore drilling corporation to help create jobs and earn much-needed tax revenue for a city currently being besieged by a 100 million dollar lawsuit from Chicago’s new mayor Rahm Emanuel in regards to some sale tax issues. Go figure. It’s undoubtedly a conspiracy supported by The Chicago Tribune.
I dream I’m the guy who’ll cause a massive reduction in consumer purchase and use of single use plastic bottles (all because of this post, so please share). I am a visual artist, and whether you’re a grade school student, high school student, college student, casual reader, ardent reader, working professional, budding or entrenched activist — no matter who you are, I’d like you to look at the following visual documentary.
Single use plastic bottles represent an unsustainable and ecologically unpardonable practice. What are “single use plastic bottles?” And why are they so hideous?
Single use plastic bottles originate from crude oil (petroleum). It’s typical to envision crude oil coming from Middle Eastern kingdoms. But crude oil is also drilled and spilled in Africa, in places such as the Nigerian delta region; it’s drilled and spilled from ocean floors; now there’s the archaic scramble to surface mine all the Canadian oil sands. Anyway, single use plastic bottles (and all other plastics) come from oil.
After extraction of the crude oil, carbon burning trucks or direct pipelines transport the crude oil to shipping ports. It’s a fact that now half of the world’s oil takes transoceanic journeys to reach oil hungry nations. More carbon is burned so the ports can have electricity. More carbon is burned to get the port workers to their jobs. More carbon is burned as oil tankers make their two week trips across oceans.
Once the oil tankers reach port, more carbon is burned to unload their oil and then transport the crude to the oil refineries. Energy intensive processes such has high temperature heating refines the crude oil. The crude is converted into hundreds of new petrochemical compositions (such as auto fuel). Chemical additives are mixed with certain new compositions to make polymers, which are turned into dried pellets.
More carbon is burned to ship the polymer pellets (which originated from crude oil) to water bottling plants, or soda bottling plants, or juice bottling plants, which operate on carbon-based and nuclear energy resources. The polymer pellets are turned into polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles. Bottles are filled with consumable liquid. And more carbon is burned to ship the filled bottles to retail stores.
The retail stores operate on carbon-based and nuclear energy resources. Employees drive to work in carbon-burning vehicles. Consumers mainly drive to retail stores in carbon-burning vehicle to purchase consumable liquids packaged in single use plastic bottles, either individually or by the case. They then drive away in their carbon-burning vehicles.
And then, after 12-16 ounces of consumable liquid is poured into the body, the plastic bottle is mainly thrown in the trash, where it will ultimately be buried in a landfill, or it is despicably tossed away as ground litter, where it can eventually enter the watershed and add to the growing collection of oceanic plastic pollution.
This is a mindless cultural activity. It wasn’t in place when I was a kid; it is a recent phenomena.
I do not participate in the single use plastic bottle culture. I haven’t purchased or drank from a single use plastic bottle in two years. You’ve just seen how much energy is burned and how much pollution is created so one can drink liquid from a single use plastic bottle. It’s ridiculous. Recycling single use plastic bottles only continues the energy intensive cycle. The solution is to completely quit all participation in this practice. Quitting is easier than you think. Here’s how I did it…
My wife and I each own two stainless steel water bottles, and so does our five year old daughter. They are washed after each use. We maintain 10 one gallon plastic water jugs. We keep them out of sunlight to avoid chemical leaching. We determined that they stay bacteria free since there is no direct plastic-to-mouth contact. We refill them at the grocery store water refill station approximately 8—10 times each before recycling them. We have a water pitcher with a replaceable filter (we have a taste issue with our tap water, but I drink tap water elsewhere). The pitcher fills our coffee maker and supplements our daily water consumption. We do cook with tap water.
We purchase Santa Cruz Organic Lemonade in 1 quart glass bottles, which we drink conservatively. I drink no soda, ever. If my wife and daughter do drink it, they purchase a six-pack of aluminum cans from the health food store and I recycle the cans with the cans I collect from my workplace. Everyday I fill my steel bottle with water and bring it to work. I drink water with the sandwich and snacks I pack in washable plastic containers; my lunch generates no trash. I also bring a full water bottle to fairs, music festivals, on bike rides, hikes and city wanderings.
I wrote this because I am completely disheartened by single use plastic bottles. I’m educated about the unsustainable lifestyles lived by Western peoples and the unsustainable practices of Western corporations — but I also did research when writing this, and as often happens, I learned something new. Actually, I learned a lot.
I learned that my transition from single use plastic bottles to “multiple use plastics” is just a step for me, because I found a blog written by Beth Terry from Oakland, California, called My Plastic-free Life that further changed me. Among other things, Beth critiques plastic consumption, inspires plastics reduction and reviews non-plastic food container alternatives. I learned about LunchBots, a company that sells stainless steel lunch containers, and Life Without Plastic, a company that sells multiple stainless steel container options, including water bottles with stainless steel caps. I cannot afford a sudden transition to these pricier steel products, but I will begin to request them as future Christmas and birthday gifts, and I’ll spend my recycling money on them until I’m fully transitioned. I also learned about “a beacon in the smog” called Grist, which reports (in a refreshing, Onionesque way) on environmental and sustainability issues.
DATA COLLECTION (1): On Monday, August 15, 2011, I rode my bike from my house in Bradley to my bank in neighboring Kankakee. I am always aware of and saddened by public litter. Taking only major routes through the towns, I made it a point to stop and photograph the single use plastic bottles I found discarded in the grass and against the curbs. I stopped to take a total of 61 photos; 54 of them are shown in the array above. That’s crude oil, extracted from foreign lands, shipped, refined, redefined, filled, reshipped, purchased, consumed, and then discarded on the ground. Each of those single use plastic bottles is (potentially) fated to enter the watershed and the world’s oceans. Start to look around your local roadways and green spaces and take notice of your environment. Are the members of your community this unconscionable?
DATA COLLECTION (2): Later on Monday, August 15, 2011, I rode to what I considered a typical American park. It has nearby parking, a football field, a concessions stand, beverage machines, and a children’s playground. I looked into each trash can to check for single use plastic bottles. Each trash can held multiple examples of single use plastic bottles, and my visual assessments determined that the majority of the trash was single use plastic bottles. That’s crude oil, extracted from the earth in foreign lands, shipped, refined, redefined, filled, reshipped, purchased, consumed, discarded, and fated to be buried back in the earth, all so consumers could temporarily house some liquid content in their bodies.
Question this entire system. Stop accepting it.
And quit right now. Don’t participate in the single use plastic bottle culture. Don’t spend another penny on single use bottled water. Don’t purchase soda or juice in single use plastic bottles. Don’t accept a single use plastic bottle from your mom, neighbor or best friend. At times learn to live without. At other times problem-solve your way to more sustainable choices. The luxury of the habit is yet more pavement on the road of our environmental ruin. We can all do better.