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From foil and soil. Reuse of agricultural waste

16 of August '23

The amount of waste we generate is alarming. An island of garbage drifting in the Pacific, photos of marine animals suffocated by plastic packaging, and subsequent fires at waste collection sites remind us from time to time of the enormous scale of this problem. Looking for at least a partial solution, architect Magdalena Górecka and materials scientist Magdalena Skowyra in the Foil&Soil Mishmash project explore how we can reuse tons of plastic agricultural waste. You can see the fruits of their research until August 28 at Warsaw's Marszalkowska 18 gallery in the exhibition Landscape from Foil and Soil.

Ola Kloc: What is the Landscape from Foil and Soil exhibition about?

Magdalena Górecka: Our exhibition at the Marszalkowska 18 gallery, combines design knowledge and material science by showing alternative, physical and speculative ways to reuse LDPE polyethylene foil, which has become an integral component of the landscape of rural and suburban areas, in Poland and Europe.

The modern Polish countryside is a food factory on a micro and macro scale. Long gone is its romantic vision as if from the paintings of the classics. Today the shepherdess from „Babie lato” would sooner lie in a field covered with LDPE foil than with black soil. The rhythm of the countryside is no longer so clearly delineated by the seasons, helped by the process of industrialization of agriculture. Nearly 40 percent of Poland's citizens are rural dwellers, but this group is not only not understood and represented in the public debate, but also rarely has a voice in art spaces  writes exhibition curator Karina Dudzinska.

The matter we have created, which visually resembles distant geological eras, and the objects built from it  a megalithic structure like Stonehenge, transforms the hitherto hidden waste of the modern era of consumerism, giving it new meaning and value.

The exhibition showcases the experiments of our post-plastic Foil&Soil Mishmash laboratory, in which we combine LDPE foil with synthetic (e.g., LERG resin) and organic (bioplastic, bioresin) binders to create unique conglomerates of the future, which we call fossils of the Anthropocene. The exhibition is divided into problems, experiments and prototypes, so we can trace the entire process accompanying the creation of our "miscellany."

architektka, Magdalena Górecka i materiałoznawczyni, Magdalena Skowyra        wystawa „Krajobraz z folii i gleby” w galerii Marszałkowska 18

 Magdalena Górecka and  Magdalena Skowyra; exhibition "Landscape from foil and soil"

Photo: Monika Osinska

Ola: Your design of a village bench created from this innovative material was presented at Milan Design Week 2023, please tell us a little more about this material.

Magdalena G.: Our creations are made of raw materials recovered from the greenhouse industry. Nowadays vegetables, fruits, flowers and trees grow under giant sheets made of semi-transparent plastic (LDPE). The geometric and formal features of this type of plastic create fascinating phenomena, creating a dichotomy between the tensile strength and the ability to drape, crease and crease the film. These aspects are shown in our exhibition. The entire composition of our plastic is coated with a layer of thermosetting compound, giving the solid its final appearance and practical properties. We are still developing, so many of our ideas are currently in the testing phase.

Ola: You are looking at what happens to plastic used in agriculture, looking for ways to reuse it, but it is a drop in the ocean of trash we generate. What other material do you see potential in?

Magdalena Skowyra: Definitely yes. Plastic is a material that has now become an integral part of us, which can both be perceived in a negative and positive light. We do not close ourselves in definitions and try to give a second life to post-agricultural polyethylene film in a new, transformed form. This does not mean that we lack a critical view of the precipitation issue. With our experience and spatial and technological knowledge, we are able to go a step further, creating tests, prototypes, fictions and material narratives that can make a real difference.

I believe that every material that surrounds us has its own special value. Physically, it comes from the amount of energy already put into its creation, which can come from someone's labor as well as mined raw materials. Therefore, I believe there is infinite potential in upcycling waste of any kind. All we need is a little creativity and many hours spent in the lab.

wystawa „Krajobraz z folii i gleby” w galerii Marszałkowska 18         wystawa „Krajobraz z folii i gleby” w galerii Marszałkowska 18

"Landscape from foil and soil" exhibition at Marszalkowska 18 gallery

Photo: Monika Osinska

Ola: Well, exactly, what is the process of creating new material like?

Magdalena S.: I think there is no clear answer to this question. The whole process focuses on two key issues  idea and knowledge. It often happens that we find ourselves in a situation where the number of ideas can overwhelm us. In such a case, it is worth approaching our idea from a "bird's eye" perspective, avoiding exploring the details and focusing on the benefits, drawbacks and practical application of the new matter. Then we can proceed to planning and practical implementation, which usually absorbs the most time and can be frustrating. Paradoxically, however, it is at this point that the process of discovering the new material takes place, which brings the greatest satisfaction.

Also, don't forget to repeat successful tests multiple times, as the repeatability of the process determines its future success. In reality, however, a significant portion of tests never leave the walls of the laboratory. This may be due to high production costs or the complex nature of the process. We are happy to have circumvented these limitations and find ourselves here. We cordially invite you to visit, the exhibition is on view at 18 Marszalkowska Street in Warsaw.

plakat wystawy „Krajobraz z folii i gleby”

Poster of the exhibition "Landscape of Foil and Soil"

© organizers archive

 Ola Kloc

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