Making visible, rendering obscure: Reading the plastic crisis through contemporary artistic visual representations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Since the mid-twentieth century, plastic has become a ubiquitous material. However, its produc- tion, consumption and disposal on a massive scale have led to a range of devastating conse- quences that together form the ‘plastic crisis’. This paper presents a novel mapping of the ways contemporary artistic visual representations narrate and politicize the plastic crisis through their different messages and aesthetics. Drawing on a multifaceted understanding of the plastic crisis and on how art navigates political and aesthetic spheres, an analysis of 35 artworks is con- ducted. Ocean plastic pollution emerges as a dominant theme, together with disposability; and these are connected to consumption patterns and consumer responsibility. However, less atten- tion is given to plastic’s dependence on fossil fuels and possible toxicity. The result is art of strik- ing beauty and emotional resonance, but that downplays the systemic nature of the plastic crisis and the urgent need to hold manufacturers and regulators to account.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Visual Arts


  • art, disposability, fossil dependency, pollution, plastic
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal Sustainability
Publication statusPublished - 2020 May 12
Publication categoryResearch

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