Amandine Drouet vigilantly patrols the streets and recycle bins of Atlanta for items unloved, forgotten, unused and discarded. In her hands, a plastic soda bottle, a piano, cookie wrappers, plastic food trays and grocery bags will become ethereal jellyfish, glowing amoebae, a mobile, lanterns, plant pods, enveloping environments and two-dimensional art.
The transformational process is a weapon in her battle against a culture of excessive trash. “Plastic Attack,” her exhibition at Hodgepodge Coffeehouse and Gallery through January 25, 2014, suggests not only that our detritus is overwhelming us but also that art can fight back.
Bellicose references notwithstanding, the French-born artist’s work, reflective of her own calm, quiet and thoughtful nature, is ethereal and lovely. Instead of thinking “war” and “destruction” when viewing her pieces, one thinks “peace” and “reclamation.” Her love of nature’s organic forms — referenced in such titles as “Carnivorous,” “Pitcher Plants” and “Au Revoir les Elephants” — imbues them with intriguing beauty.
Dangling from the ceiling of the gallery, the installation “Untitled” meanders a snail trail that spans most of the length of the room. Coat hangers, plastic bags, translucent six-pack yokes and sewing threads are materials that delicately trail, wisp and ooze, reminiscent of Spanish moss. A bird’s nest high up in a tree outside the coffee shop window caught my eye as I looked at Drouet’s dangling nest forms.
Recycling is fashionable now, but it’s not new. Historically, people repurposed goods as a matter of practicality; new items were costly and time-consuming to make. With the rise of mass production, along with overconsumption and overpopulation, our trash now imperils the planet. The process of transforming discarded waste into creative forms assuages some of the guilt over our complicity in these problems, but it also beautifies our world and encourages a further dialogue about waste.
Drouet’s processes include melting, deconstructing, reconstructing, molding and perforating. She also uses a stitch technique called Free Motion, done on a sewing machine, to create texture, bind layers of plastics together and create “spider webs” and other interesting dimensional surface applications that reference nature. In “Untitled,” the stitching is monochromatic; in other works, such as “Orange,” there is a more deliberate use of colored sewing threads to highlight and accentuate the design in the recycled plastic.
The practice of sewing is cathartic and has a long history of “repair”; Drouet’s works seem to be a prayer for redemption and her stitches a way of putting the world back together, one piece at a time.
Note: One of the definitions of “hodgepodge” is “a confused mixture.” Although the eponymous coffee shop and gallery is a warm and comfortable space, it is not the best place for an exhibition. A few changes to the area devoted to art — fewer tables, no bookshelves and adding pedestals to display sculptures — would render it more suitable. Drouet is an accomplished artist whose work belongs in galleries and museum spaces.