Oct 23, 2023
The Art of Reusing Plastic
Advertisement Newsletter The artists Beverly Barkat and Germane Barnes play with
The artists Beverly Barkat and Germane Barnes play with discarded plastic — including bottles, cups and printer cartridges — to explore the possibilities of reinventing waste.
Send any friend a story
As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.
By James Barron
Good morning. It's Tuesday. We’ll meet two artists who observed World Environment Day with creations made from discarded plastics. We’ll also find out why a court-appointed official says the police anti-crime units are still stopping and frisking people illegally.
For several years, the Israeli artist Beverly Barkat collected trash — plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cartons, plastic cups, plastic lids, plastic wrappers. She collected them even while traveling, stuffing them in her suitcase and carrying them home. And when the pandemic tied down the world, friends in places like New Zealand and Vietnam sent her their throwaways.
She sorted them in her studio in Jerusalem, filling countless boxes according to color, hardness and transparency. Before long, she said, "I felt I was swimming in a huge sea of plastic waste" — it served as an emotionally overwhelming metaphor for the world's plastic waste problem.
She turned the plastics she amassed into "Earth Poetica," a 13-foot-tall globe that she installed at 3 World Trade Center on Monday for World Environment Day, an annual observance designated by the United Nations to bolster awareness of, and action about, the environment. The theme this year was appropriate for Barkat — solutions to plastic pollution, with the hashtag #BeatPlasticPollution.
It is a theme that has echoed in other places lately. Last month the critic Christopher Hawthorne wrote that decarbonization and the inventive reuse of materials were among the themes at the Venice Architecture Biennale. The United States Pavilion there featured artists who had made playful items from plastics.
This week also brings World Oceans Day, another United Nations observance, on Thursday. The Center for Biological Diversity says that from the Equator to the poles, 51 trillion pieces of plastic litter the oceans, with not a single square mile of surface water free of plastic pollution.
Barkat's globe has 180 panels tracing the latitude and longitude of the earth, and the continents are roughly visible. From the outside, the graphics — the labeling on the bottles and cartons — are blurry. "You see the colors of the ocean and the land and all these different areas on the globe," she said. "You sort of forget the idea of plastic waste because you’re asking questions."
Such as, how did she make the globe?
Answer: She cast pieces of plastic waste in clear epoxy resin, which gave the sphere something of a stained-glass look. Barkat, who studied jewelry design and later architecture, said the result was unexpectedly beautiful, "like a jewel."
Another question: Why install it at 3 World Trade Center?
Answer: Because Lisa Silverstein, the vice chairman of Silverstein Properties, which has redeveloped the World Trade Center complex, asked her to.
Barkat said they met at her solo exhibition during the Venice Biennale in 2017. Later, when Barkat visited 3 World Trade Center to take measurements for her project, she considered some questions of her own.
"Who comes in contact with the building? Who's going around the building?" she said. "It's everyone. I realized the world I was creating needed to convey a message that is powerful to the world itself."
Barakat left a few panels open on her globe so that viewers could stick their heads inside. Our colleague Isabel Kershner, who got to experience that in Barkat's studio last year, wrote that the view was like "the rough back of a carpet" — "a chaotic maelstrom of tufts and jagged fragments" from the plastic Barket had fused together.
While Barkat worked with thousands of pieces of different kinds of plastic, Germane Barnes had a more limited selection for a different World Environment Day installation: recycled cartridges from Hewlett-Packard printers.
"The actual cartridges from inside the machine," he said. "As consumers, we put the cartridge in the machine, press ‘print’ and let it do its job. We fail to understand that there are smaller plastic components" with each plastic cartridge, the object that everybody has changed at least once.
Hewlett-Packard says that more than a billion cartridges have been recycled in the last 30 years. Barnes used nearly 1,000 of them for "Create What's Next," an installation at Studio 525, on West 24th Street. It was immersive: There was a chandelier from yellow cartridges, hula hoops from pinks, a greenish-blue stool from cyans.
"We essentially figured out that we could put people inside of theoretical ink cartridges," said Barnes, who is an assistant professor and the director of the Community Housing and Identity Lab at the University of Miami School of Architecture.
The installation presented his interpretation of Hewlett-Packard's recycling process, using materials from each step. And he said a goal of the installation was for "people who don't mail them back to see how this process is circular, and do their part."
A spokeswoman for Hewlett-Packard said that Barnes's installation had gone into storage with an eye to future exhibitions. When the time comes, the cartridges he used would be treated like every other cartridge — they would be recycled, too.
On a mostly sunny day, prepare for a chance of showers and thunderstorms, with temperatures near the high 70s. The evening is mostly clear, with temps dropping to the high 50s.
In effect until June 19 (Juneteenth).
Less than a month after taking office last year, Mayor Eric Adams revived the Police Department's anti-crime units, promising that they would be well trained and closely supervised.
"Unfortunately, the results are disappointing," a court-appointed monitor wrote in a report released on Monday. "Too many people are stopped, frisked and searched unlawfully" — and almost all of them are people of color, she wrote. The report said that 97 percent of the stops analyzed in the report involved Black or Hispanic people.
The monitor, Mylan Denerstein, found that "sergeants, lieutenants and commanding officers fail to identify and correct" problems with the anti-crime units, which the Police Department calls "neighborhood safety teams." Earlier versions of the units, which were notorious for their use of force against Black and Hispanic New Yorkers, were disbanded in 2020.
When Adams, a former police captain, revived them amid tensions over policing and a rise in gun violence, he said, "I know how to do it right, because I fought against what was being done wrong."
But of 230 car stops analyzed in the report, only two apparently turned up weapons.
The report also found troubling numbers in a handful of precincts, including the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, where only 41 percent of stops, 32 percent of frisks and 26 percent of searches were constitutional.
The police and mayor's office took issue with the report, saying the units have been effective in reducing shootings and homicides and in keeping police interactions with the public lawful. Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Adams, said the mayor's office had serious concerns with the methodology used in the report.
The units on the streets since last year appeared to have a higher rate of unlawful stops than in an extensive sample of stops by all officers citywide in 2020, the last review until now.
Announcing a candidacy: Former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey intends to jump into the Republican presidential field on Tuesday.
State trooper charged: A state trooper was charged by the New York attorney general's office with killing an unarmed man after a high-speed chase in Buffalo.
Turning 100: When the New Jersey Symphony planned this season's centennial celebrations, a question kept coming up: Would it go to Carnegie Hall?
Tony nominees: Each year we photograph Tony nominees and talk with them about their craft. This year we focused on actors.
Eddie and I were in eighth grade. We paid 30 cents for a bus from Rockville Centre on Long Island to Jamaica, Queens, and then 15 cents to ride the subway to Manhattan. It was 1958.
Our goal was to wander the city and then meet our hero Jean Shepherd, the radio raconteur who would later write "A Christmas Story."
Shep had a Sunday night show on WOR where he told long stories and introduced us to Robert Service's poetry. Being one of his fans felt like being part of a cool club, with inside jokes and references.
At 13, Eddie and I were adventuresome but not menacing, and most people just ignored us as we made our way around town.
The steamer Ile de France was docked in the Hudson, and we walked up the gangplank. After we had been exploring the ship for a while, a man asked us what we were doing.
"Nothing," we said.
He told us to leave.
Later, we walked to WOR and waited for Shep. Just before 9 p.m., he pulled up on a Vespa.
"Hi," we said as he hurried into the studio.
"Hey guys," he said.
We got on the subway and headed home. It was a great day.
— Jerry McGovern
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Thanks to Lola Fadulu, Katherine Rosman, Ashley Southall and Dodai Stewart for their work here while I was off. Let's get together again tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here's today's Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].
Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
James Barron is a Metro reporter and columnist who writes the New York Today newsletter. In 2020 and 2021, he wrote the Coronavirus Update column, part of coverage that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service. He is the author of two books and was the editor of "The New York Times Book of New York."
AdvertisementSend any friend a story 10 gift articles Announcing a candidacy State trooper charged Turning 100 Tony nominees Thanks to Lola Fadulu, Katherine Rosman, Ashley Southall and Dodai Stewart for their work here while I was off. Let's get together again tomorrow. — J.B.