(In)Visibility: PET Bottle Installation at Wellesley College

Completed installation, view from below

On November 9th and 10th, contemporary artist Willie Cole joined a group of Wellesley College students and faculty to contribute to an installation, made primarily out of plastic PET water bottles. The project’s inspiration and origins have a long history; the goal rests on making visible a component of the campus’ waste stream, and transforming materials that have an associated negative environmental impact to a form with a positive social influence.

All aspects of the project’s process, from its conception, to its design, to collecting bottles, to physically building the installation, were done in collaboration with many others. It was great to experience a community build around this project, and to see the connections and trust that I relied on throughout the project.

The final piece demonstrates an evolution of the PET water bottles – generally, from their original state to schools of fish. Over a thousand PET bottles, in various forms, are strung on over 20 wires that span the vertical height of the display location. The bottles begin at the bottom of the piece in their most “pure” or least-adapted form, after their labels have been removed. They fluidly “evolve” to the next stage, where the bottles begin to take form – the bottom of the bottle is molded into a mouth shape. At the top of the piece we see plastic fish. The bottles are altered to have a fish-like mouth, a tail (made out of used plastic bags), and eyes.

The installation is vertically suspended in the Campus Center, in a space called the Impluvium. The Impluvium is a 12’x4’ wide vertical glass channel, that spans from the roof of the building to the basement, 63’ in height. It is open to the sky on the top, so rain and snow can fall through, and it acts as the primary air draw for the building’s ventilation system. To get to the top floor of the Campus Center, people walk up stairs that circle around the Impluvium. This means people can see anything that goes through the space – rain, snow, occasional leaves, and now strings of clustered (“schooling”) plastic PET bottles evolving into plastic fish.

If you would like to see the installation, it is hanging at Wellesley College’s Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, and will be displayed until the end of the semester.

Please contact me (Elli Blaine) at eblaine@wellesley.edu if you have any further questions, or if you wish to coordinate displaying the installation at another location.

Installation location, pre-PET fish, view from below

Pre-sorted collected bottles

Cleaned PET bottles

Students work nights to hang the installation - Em Gamber, Gabriela Lanza, Rebecca Leung, and Elli Blaine. Photo by Elsa Sebastian.

Schooling PET fish

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