NewsJul 10, 2018

Inspired by an ocean of trash

Professor Michelle Lougee’s sculptures make powerful statement against plastic

Whimsical, colorful and unusual, Michelle Lougee’s eye-catching sculptures rarely fail to elicit a “wow” when people discover they’re made of thousands of plastic bags.

Michelle Lougee head shot
Artist and faculty Michelle Lougee

Lougee, who teaches sculpture at the Lesley University College of Art + Design, collects post-consumer plastic bags from friends, students and art lovers and uses them to create plarn (a mashup of the words plastic and yarn), which she then crochets into sculptures inspired by nature. For her latest exhibit, "Timber!," at the Boston Sculptors Gallery, Lougee used images of microscopic seeds as her jumping off point, using bags the same color as the peculiar and exotic organisms on which they are based.

Always drawn to working with recycled and found materials, Lougee truly embraced environmental art after hearing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a decade ago.

Artwork titled Germinate, made from red and green crocheted plastic. Appears to be standing on multiple legs with other tenticals come out of the top.
"Germinate" by Michelle Lougee

The 79,000-ton pile of floating plastic trash in the ocean horrified Lougee, and she responded by teaching herself to crochet plastic bags destined for the landfill, fashioning them into natural forms with, of course, some artistic liberties.

“I wanted to use plastic especially because it is so ubiquitous in the environment and something that doesn’t really go away,” she said.

Her first plarn exhibit focused on creatures of the ocean — a golden-tan octopus, bright green coral and multi-colored jellyfish.

Jellyfish sculptures made of plastic hang from a ceiling
Michelle Lougee's earlier work with plastic resembled sea creatures.

“Those were fun to make but the recognizable work was almost a little too easy,” said Lougee.

Her initial work evolved to less familiar creatures. She made microscopic sea organisms, hanging structures constructed to look like paper wasp nests, and mixed media pieces of stitched paper, plastic and thread in the forms of cells, clouds and abstract figures.

In addition to the pointy and alien-like seeds she created for "Timber!," Lougee created a large multi-tentacled creature based on actual plastic-eating caterpillars that scientists have discovered. According to Lougee, 100 of the caterpillars can consume one plastic bag each month.

To make any headway on the tons of plastic already polluting the earth, “It seemed like the caterpillar would need to be a lot bigger, so I made mine a lot bigger,” she said.

michelle Louge's spore crocheted from plastic
"Spore" is based on the spore of the Aztec Cactus.

And although many cities are outlawing plastic bags, the problem of non-biodegradable plastic clogging waterways persists. Lougee hopes her artwork will inspire people to reduce their plastic usage.

“We really need to stop single-use plastic overall,” she said. For now, she is compelled to continue crocheting the natural world with this most unnatural product.

“I feel like the material still really speaks to what I want to say.”

"Timber!" is on display until July 15. Lougee will also display her work at the Chandler Gallery of the Maud Morgan Arts Center in Cambridge from Aug. 13 to Sept. 7 with an opening reception on Thursday, Aug. 16, 6-8 p.m.

Learn more about Michelle Lougee at www.mlougee.com.