Raw Materials: Plastic

Discover plastics’ history in east London

Photo credits: Halex combs, c1910-1940, courtesy Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest, photo Rob Harris

Raw Materials explores the forgotten industrial history of plastics in east London around the River Lea. The exhibition reveals the story of east London’s central role in the invention and early development of plastics, presenting some of the very first plastic objects alongside newly commissioned artworks that tell the story of this material’s remarkable journey. The project is supported by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund, as well as by academic partner University College London (UCL).

In Hackney Wick, 1865, Victorian inventor Alexander Parkes created Parkesine, a precursor to celluloid and one of the world’s first man-made plastics. The exhibition showcases these early Victorian plastics together with the first mass-produced plastic objects to hit our shelves across the first half of the 20th century, made by the originally East End-based British Xylonite Company. New commissions from resident artist makers Peter Marigold and Frances Scott will also be unveiled. Marigold responds to Parkes’ early mould-making techniques using ‘FORMCard’, his own brand of compostable bio-plastic, while Scott’s new film PHX (X is for Xylonite) draws upon laser scanning techniques in order to develop and animate 3D images of early plastics objects.

Together with UCL, Bow Arts would like to acknowledge supporting project partners MoDiP (Museum of Design in Plastic, Arts University Bournemouth), the Plastics Historical Society, V&A, Science Museum, Vestry House Museum, and Barking & Dagenham, Hackney, Suffolk, Newham and Waltham Forest archives for their contribution to the project’s research and exhibition.

An extensive event programme runs alongside the exhibition, including workshops on plastics and recycling, panel discussions and boat tours along the River Lea.

Read more on rawmaterials.bowarts.org #RawMaterialsPlastics

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