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Member Spotlight l Toby Zallman

Monday, September 26, 2022 9:45 AM | ecoartspace (Administrator)


September 26, 2022

This week we recognize   Toby Zallman Toby Zallman, and her work focused on plastic pollution.

Trained as a painter in the 1970s, Zallman transitioned to sculpture in the 1990s, and began to examine the role of technology in our lives in 2004. She stated in an interview, “It was a period where I transitioned from looking inward to becoming conscious of what was happening outside of me, in the landscape.” She learned about the burning of e-waste in China and the resulting air pollution, and subsequently became concerned about safe drinking water. By 2014, the artist was shocked and captivated by the relentless proliferation and neglect of plastic pollution and decided to make her materials the message.

Zallman's Molluscs (above), one of eighteen total, is made from plastic drinking cups that the artist had in her studio for years and decided to use, together forming the series Small Works Group. The sealife simulation is also a combination of stones and cloth, all upcycled and assembled as a memorial portrait.

The artists has also made sculpture using plastic bags wrapped around wire in the shape of ocean corals. Her work Mongo consists of a broad range of food packaging (below).

"My art transforms toxic refuse into evocative objects of abstract seduction, that bring a sense of beauty to environmentally devastating situations and arouse cognitive dissonance in viewers. Since 2005, I have made sculptures and drawings which respond to the by products of our society’s rampant consumerism. My aim is for the work to incite both a sense of pleasure and a disturbing awareness of the degradation of our oceans, land and bodies. This engaging visual experience will support change in viewers' behaviors. My involvement with the group, Organizing for Plastic Alternatives, has both channelled some energy towards finding practical solutions to these problems, as well as increased awareness of my own problematic behaviors."

Plastic production is expected to triple by 2050. By then, our oceans will contain more weight in plastic than fish. In 2018 China refused to accept non-recyclable waste from other countries, and it’s cheaper for manufacturers to make virgin plastic than recycle. In America, we still have eighteen states that have preemptive laws stopping plastic bag regulations. As John Oliver states in his recent special on plastics in March 2021, “the real behavior change needs to come from manufacturers, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). They need to create the infrastructure to recycle the products they make.” EPR laws are being proposed now, and it cannot happen soon enough for Toby Zallman.

Toby Zallman        is a Chicago artist whose art practice focuses on sculpture and drawing. In 2004, after becoming aware of how damaging our plastic and e-waste is to the environment, she changed her materials to both incorporate recycled/re-purposed materials in her sculpture as well as a source of visual inspiration for both the sculptures and drawings. She has used computer detritus, plastic bags, plastic bottles and solid plastic trash to create unique art works that shed light on the environmental devastation cause by our culture of consumerism. Zallman shows both locally and nationally. Zallman has been the recipient of several Illinois Arts Council grants, including one in 2021 for her exhibition “Our Plastic Trash,” and an Individual Artist Program Grant, City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and a 2022 Puffin Foundation grant for her project, "reefscollape." She has had artist residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and Ragdale. Zallman received her BFA from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. tobyzallman.com

Featured Images (top to bottom): ©Toby Zallman, reefscollapse, 2018-2022, site-responsive installation made with discarded plastic packaging; (sculpture), large format color print on muslin with pastel and plastic (backdrop), approximately 12 x 8 x 6 feet (sculpture) 9 x 18 feet (backdrop); Mollusc 10, 2020, plastic, 2.75 x 1.375 x 2 inches; Mongo, 2021, plastic refuse, 13.5 x 19.5 x 19.5 inches; Water Bottles, 2007, mixed mediums on plastic water bottles, 33 x 51 x 36 inches; Whorl, 2016, acrylic, laser print, graphite, pastel, plastic bags on muslin, 43 x 62 inches; Portrait of the artist (below), by Tom Van Eynde.

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