Single-use plastic engulfs a pretty woodland in a new installation by artist Clare Townley

All photography courtesy of Cheeseburn

Using reclaimed and recycled plastic, artist Clare Townley has transformed woodland in Newcastle-upon-Tyne with a series of long, sinewy, sprawling sculptures.

Based at Cheeseburn Sculpture Gardens, the plastic artworks are hand-knitted together to mimic the garlands and vines found in the natural world and aim to explore our adoration, subsequent disgust and eventual disposal of the unsustainable material.

Clare describes the global plastic crisis as "a burden we want someone else to carry, which will not improve without widespread cognitive dissonance."

But of her installation, entitled Nostalgie de la Boue: Plastic Friend, she cautions those who see it against the "demonisation" of plastic, urging a more responsible approach instead, "We have plastic in our houses, wiring systems, computers, surgical implants. The list is endless. Eliminating plastic entirely may not be possible or desirable. A more responsible, controlled approach to plastics and a big worldwide clean-up of the environment is necessary, so in my view, it is now a matter of reducing the amount we create and reusing and recycling the remainder."

The installation is made up of a thousand metres of plastic rope created by hand from some 10 thousand recycled bags and bottles. To achieve this ambitious feat, Clare reached out to several organisations for assistance and donations from around the country.

The starting point for Nostalgie de la Boue: Plastic Friend was Clare’s Fine Art BA degree show at Newcastle University in 2017, in which she produced a room full of 10 large prehistoric plasticine creepers and vines, seemingly set loose from a fossilised plastic fragment.

"From the offset, I was intrigued by the old school visuals from retro sci-fi films and hand-built sets," she adds. "When I began working on the piece I realised I needed to reconsider my material choices, ensuring they were in keeping with my practice but were also site-specific. For example, weatherproof materials would be necessary for the installation to work at Cheeseburn."