What Remains? Environmentalist performance art brings awareness to single-use plastics crisis

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environmental street art

This is the second year that Jen Fedrizzi and I have staged a performance on “Black Friday,” also known as the day after Thanksgiving, which is a pretty notoriously consumerist holiday in the U.S. We wanted our performance to be part environmental protest and part performance art, so that day seemed really fitting.

We performed as part of the Almost Public/Semi-Exposed series at Artists’ Television Access in San Francisco in their street front window. It’s a great spot because there’s a lot of foot traffic on Valencia St. in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District.

Creating costumes made from trash

We wanted to evoke emotions for viewers to inspire a change in the way that they use single-use items. We created custom trash costumes as a way to “carry” our own trash on our bodies. We imagined our characters as “the spirit of nature” both as a polluted entity, as well as a spirit of hope, even in the face of darkness.

We called the piece, “What Remains,” which is meant to provoke thought on what actually remains on the earth after we die. It seems that we talk a lot about ethics in regards to human vs. human interactions, such as, “Did I speak rudely to that person?” but this narrative rarely goes deeper. We wanted to explore that, as in “What are the actual tangible effects of our actions on this planet?”

We especially wanted to explore the lack of awareness people have in regards to the waste they create, and try to challenge that in our performance.

You’ll see lots of people walking by holding their to-go coffee cups in the videos of the performance, and I think that’s quite fitting, and also pretty ironic.

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Creating a musical score all about plastic pollution

In order to take the performance to the next level, we decided to create original music with lyrics about pollution. I created about 25 minutes of original electronic music, which consisted of four vocal tracks and four instrumental tracks, which we repeated over the course of the 5-hour performance.

One song, “Little pieces of plastic,” is all about micro-plastics. I had read that scientists recently found micro-plastics in the human bloodstream, which I found to be really alarming. So, I wanted to create a song that was really dark to directly confront people with the truth of the consequences of our actions.

Another song, “Billions” confronts the amount of waste that we create by repetitively chanting, “Billions of people, billions of dollars, billions of bottles on this planet.”

What Remains,” the title track of our performance, has the lyrics, “What do we leave behind, if only violence?” and for me, this was one of the most powerful messages that I unearthed in the creative process of writing music for this piece.

I think the most digestible song of the performance was, “Away,” which asks the question, “Where is away? Where does it go when you throw it away?” If anything, this song is a challenge to people’s thinking. I wanted to create a real ear worm that viewers wouldn’t quite be able to shake. My ultimate goal would be that every time someone goes to throw something in the bin, they think, “Where is away? Yikes!”

Future performances

We plan to build on this performance, and do more iterations in different locations.

If you’d like us to come to your school, organization, or function, please reach out.