Student turns a year’s worth of trash into art exhibition

Research meets art in Avalyn Zilke’s senior art exhibition, now on display at the Mary S. Byrd Gallery of Art.

“Junk Whale: A Research Exhibition Breaking the Surface of Plastic Pollution” examines the impact humans have on the ocean environment with a specific focus on whales, plastic pollution and micro-plastic pollution.

“The average American creates 4.3 pounds of trash each day and 1,590 pounds of trash per year,” according to Zilke, senior art major in the Department of Art and Design in the Katherine Reese Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Augusta University. “This barely breaks the surface of just how much plastic waste is created and how much of it ends up in the ocean for decades. It is estimated that 15-40 percent of litter and plastic trash enters the ocean and effects wildlife.”

For her senior art show, Zilke drew inspiration from “Junk Raft,” Marcus Erikson’s autobiographical account of his fight against plastic pollutants in the ocean. Her exhibition is a blend research and environmental activism.

“Junk Whale” features a large-scale wall installation of a whale covered in an average year’s supply of discarded plastics. Documentary photographs are also displayed alongside paintings. Plastic encompasses each canvas and is directly embedded in the paint.

Zilke has spent several years preparing for this exhibition. Two years ago, she was the recipient of a Pamplin Student Research and Travel Grant, and she used the grant money to travel to New England to research whales and ocean pollution. Then, she started collecting trash. To create the pieces for her exhibition, Zilke collected trash for more than a year.

“I collected trash from anyone willing to give me their plastic,” she said. “Throughout the year, many people commented on the impact of my project; they never realized just how much plastic they used in an average week. The research for this exhibition and the preparation affected me, and it is my hope that this exhibition will have the same effect on others.”

“Junk Whale: A Research Exhibition Breaking the Surface of Plastic Pollution” will be on display at the Byrd Gallery through Friday, April 20. The gallery is located in Washington Hall on the Summerville Campus.

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