PEORIA — San Francisco artist Reenie Charriere, who travels the world making art from discarded plastics, will be in Peoria for two weeks building a giant installation for the wrap-around porch at Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum, and she needs help.
“PlayHouse visitors are invited to help her make the piece,” said Rebecca Shulman Herz, director of the PlayHouse. “Participation is free with admission to the museum. Groups of up to 10 people who sign up can work on it without paying museum admission. It would be a great team-building exercise for businesses.”
Named “Magic Carpet,” the piece will be constructed from hundreds of plastic bags, cut, ironed and stapled into a giant mesh.
“It will meander around the porch, suspended from the ceiling kind of like a wave,” said Charriere. “It will be kind of menacing — beautiful and horrible at the same time.”
Charriere’s work is a powerful statement about single-use plastics. While she prides herself in re-purposing plastics to keep them out of the landfill, she also finds beauty in the materials. During a 2016 exhibit at Project 1612 in Peoria, Charriere hung packing straps from the ceiling and dropped boulder-like crumpled bags on the floor. The green packing straps zigzagged through the air like seaweed, bringing attention to themselves in a way they never did in their intended purpose. Viewers found themselves walking through an underwater world that was both beautiful and disturbing.
“I’ve done a lot of research on the problem of plastics in our oceans,” Charriere said while hanging the exhibit. “It’s bad for any sea life, from the smallest to the largest. And what’s really bad is we don’t know exactly how big the problem is — we don’t know where our plastics are going even if we recycle them. A lot of it goes on a boat to China, and we don’t know what happens to it.”
The problem of discarded plastic is a summerlong theme at the PlayHouse. In May students from Bradley University’s Art and the Environment class, led by associate professor Margaret LeJeune, created “Journey to the Sea: An S.O.S. From Our Oceans” for the museum’s sand porch. The entire display was created with discarded plastics.
“We’ve had fantastic feedback on the Bradley students' work and, in fact, one of them is going to be the assistant for Reenie,” Herz said.
The displays dovetail with the PlayHouse’s mission to spark creative thought and inspire children to think outside the box.
“We’re always making things with recycled materials,” Herz said.
In addition to creating the work for the PlayHouse porch, Charriere will bring art to display inside the PlayHouse and also at the Peoria Art Guild in the Warehouse District. Works like “Adrift,” a collection of plastic, water, and plastic baggies formerly displayed in New York, “Float The Gravity of the Situation,” a piece composed of recycled plastic bags first hung in California, “Semaphores,” recycled plastic packaging materials arranged in the shape of nautical symbols and originally displayed in France, and “United Acetates” a map of the United States created using the bags that protect the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper from moisture when it’s thrown in customers' yards.
“Even during the drought we get the newspaper in these beautiful plastic bags,” said Charriere. “All different colors, strange colors — reds and greens and some blues, beautiful grays and tan colors. Sometimes even pink and orange.”
The colors appeal to Charriere, who was a painter before she moved on to sculpture. She will bring a bunch of San Francisco Chronicle bags to Peoria to make the multi-colored “Magic Carpet” at the PlayHouse.
Using discarded materials in a meaningful way is key for Charriere.
“We have this abundance of materials, so we might as well use it for something,” she said.
Herz said the work likely will decorate the PlayHouse Porch into the fall.
“We hope that it will take the whole front porch and be undulating in the wind for a long time. We plan to leave it up after Reenie leaves, weather permitting, for the rest of the year.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.