Virginia Fleck

In 2002, I was awarded a fellowship for travel and exhibition in Cuba.  At that time, I could travel to Cuba legally, but I could not ship art into the country, an inflatable, I reasoned, could be transported inside my suitcase undetected. After much trial and error I determined that plastic bags were ideal for creating an inflatable, they are colorful, light weight, and plentiful.  Once I had cut and flattened dozens of them, I began to notice a tone to the “chatter” printed on the bags, which ranged from amusing to disturbing. The bags seemed to tell the story of our times in visual sound-bites delivered by the logos an slogans. For ten years I have been making mandalas from plastic bags and have accumulated an extensive collection from all over the world. Each bag, whether from a poverty-stricken region or a thriving economy, reflects a purchase. Cutting and recombining these bags democratizes their disparate pedigrees, whether they originated in a boutique or a dollar store.
The mandala is a universal, non-religious tool for meditation, typically composed of highly decorative, symmetrical patterns. The carefully chosen symbols and imagery of a traditional mandala imbue it with a meaningfulness that provides guidance on one’s path to enlightenment. Conversely, ad imagery on a plastic shopping bag is carefully chosen to cause an instant association with worldly acquisitions. My choice of medium,  plastic shopping bags covered in familiar logos and slogans, imbues the mandalas with a contemporary narrative that allows me to analyze the activity of consumerism as a spiritual encounter.

The logos, slogans and promises printed on plastic shopping bags, are the result of exhaustive market research by advertisers. With an exacto knife I take aim at these graphics and through the slow deliberate action of cutting, I extract, alter and subvert those consumer messages. As a mandala takes shape I purposely employ the familiar tropes of graphic design so that the mandalas will have the eye-catching “bones” of a logo. Indulging my inherent playful nature, I take consumerism and wrestled it through the sieve of formal beauty. The resulting mandalas are intricately crafted works that reference painting, but are created by collaging pieces of detritus from a consumerist society in a way that reveals the beauty of disposable items that continually pass through our hands. These ebullient mandalas are pantone paragons of consumerist excess that contain and brand our passions while attesting to our belief in the American Dream.