Like many of us, Virginia Fleck despises plastic bags. But a few years ago, this South Austin artist began to see them differently—more as a metaphor for the short-sighted cultural values surrounding us. She now creates beautiful and thought-provoking works of art displayed locally and around the world—like the giant, inflatable pillow featured at a Cuban exhibit focused on dreams and nightmares. “This piece brings to mind a prime focus of the American dream: a big, inflated house filled with possessions,” says Fleck. The colorful, quilt-like pillow surface of fused and stitched plastic bags includes clear portholes viewers can look through to see…emptiness.
“To me, the main cause of our environmental problems is greed,” Fleck notes. “We all like stuff, but I think it’s good for us to question our impulses.”
Fleck also uses the bags to create mandalas: spiraling pieces of art that radiate with jewellike tones and mesmerizing flow and that often contain words and images that spark revolutionary thought. One such piece is “Make Over,” incorporating female iconography that questions the effects of pop images on girls and women. See samples of Fleck’s work on the walls of the flagship Whole Foods, or at virginafleck.com .
Along with a green-minded girls’ group known as the “Angsty Teenage Eco Warriors,” Fleck urges all plastic-bag foes to convert and subvert the bags for other purposes. She and the ATEW girls have created handbags, skirts and shirts by simply taping bag parts together to create “fabric,” or tying thin strips together to produce “yarn” that can be crocheted or woven (virginiafleck.com/atew.php ).
Check out more local bag transformations, such as sturdy totes made by teacher and crochet-crafter Michelle Olson (mishie.etsy.com ) and spiffy containers from Cristen Andrews (who also includes DIY instructions on her blog: cristencrochet.blogspot.com ).