Mother Nature needs our urgent attention. For this year’s #PlasticFreeMzansi campaign, fashion designer Lezanne Viviers of VIVIERS Studio and photographer Thirza Schaap created works to convey this important message. Images placed alongside each other are a double act using, in trend forecaster Li Edelkoort’s words, ‘beauty as a form of activism’. [Image 1 and 3 VIVIERS STUDIO’S Unmasked Moments and Image 2 Ocean Plastic by Thirza Schaap.]
Plastic is a powerful polymer that can be used to save lives, but it lasts forever and pollutes nature. Knowing that plastic harms our environment, we nevertheless responded to COVID-19 by wearing disposable, single-use masks containing plastic creating an enormous outbreak of waste.
The University of Denmark estimates that we use three million masks a minute, most of which are used only once. The UN estimated that the global sale of masks increased from around $800 million in 2019 to $166 billion in 2020. OceansAsia, a nonprofit marine conservation advocacy organisation, estimates that more than 1.5 billion face masks entered oceans in 2020, resulting in an additional 4,680 to 6,240 metric tons of marine plastic pollution.
Drawing attention to this, VIVIERS Studio unveils ‘Unmasked Moments’, a repurposed zero-waste outfit upending the use of a disposable item, giving it longevity adding beauty to function.
Her garment is photographed and presented alongside artwork by Thirza Schaap. Thirza’s photo forms part of her The Plastic Ocean series which combines sculpture and photography to examine our changing relationship with plastics and their overwhelming presence within society today. She describes her images as providing “a clash between worlds, offering minimal and aesthetically pleasing compositions that, on closer inspection, instil a sense of ecological grief, asking questions about consumption, idolatry, and that which we value in our lives today.”
Lezanne’s garment considers the impact of how the mere thing that is offering us protection, is harming our environment and our co-inhabiting species. ‘Unmasked Moments’ is a two-in-one garment made entirely out of single-use masks which can either be worn as a jump-suit or, when turned upside down, as a batwing-jacket.
Aware of the impact of single-use plastic pollution, Lezanne has collected every single mask she has used since January 2021. “I wash and re-use the disposable masks up to 10 times, before placing them in my special mask-recycle bin. I also asked everyone I knew who used these disposable ones to do the same. We collected about 120 masks. All the masks were sterilised in boiling water and ironed with hot steam, before we started our creative process.”
Lezanne says the process was like playing Tetris, laying bricks, guided by symmetry where form became function, ultimately paving a herringbone pattern. The simple rectangular arrangement of masks cascades, repeats and transforms into a new quilt-like fabric, machine stitched together with Nylon thread.
The impractical looped elastic bands act as a metaphor to illustrate the struggle of animals trapped and entangled in plastic items in our oceans, rivers and streets.
Photographer Armand Dicker who along with creative director Anthony Hinrichsen made the images of Lezanne’s garment to be used alongside Thirza’s photograph. Together the images serve as a form of activism to raise awareness about the environmental damage being done by single-use masks. “Our intention,” says Anthony, “was to highlight the despair that our world is currently facing due to accelerating climate change caused by human activity.”
Taking inspiration from Thirza’s artwork, Dicker and Hinrichsen evoke the tragedy of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, as it so clearly speaks to the current state of the world.
Armand says, “We found a pristine location that represents untouched nature. Our model Rhulani [Kubayi] played mother nature driven to madness by plastic pollution, and braved the icy water to bring our vision to life.”
Thirza finds beauty in garbage and celebrates the clash between attraction and repulsion. While Thirza expresses a state of deep sadness, a cry for help; Lezanne discloses a moment of change through performance art and activism.
This mantle uses its aesthetic appeal to advocate and vigorously illustrate how an item of short-lived convenience to some, could damage our environment and the natural world. Lezanne’ dwells on principles of repurposing plastic and of keeping materials in use, eliminating waste, tapping into waste streams, but always making objects of quality, beauty and luxury that last.
To Lezanne, luxury is quality, items that are made with care, love, integrity and meaning.
“Time, or at least the illusion thereof, is always instilled in items and experiences of luxury. Luxury embodies time. Luxury is conscious, considered, ethical and has a very personal service component to its experience. Luxury can only be sustainable. If it is not sustainable, it is not luxury.”
The epitome of super-conscious consumerism can only be achieved by un-learning our disposable lifestyle habits and integrating sustainable trends as new norms. Our take-make-waste lifestyle needs to be radically reconsidered and shifted towards a whole circular economy.
Credits for VIVIERS Studio
- Photography by Armand Dicker @armanddicker
- Creative Direction by Anthony Hinrichsen @antdane
- Makeup by Amy-Louise Tourell @amylouise_makeup_
- Assisted by Ciara Roberts @ciara.roberts
- Model is Rhulani Kubayi at Topco Models @rhulanikubayi5 @topcomodels
- Design by Viviers @viviers.studio
Credit for Thirza Schaap image
From the series Plastic Ocean
The Plastic Ocean series combine sculpture and photography to examine our changing relationship with plastics and their overwhelming presence within society today. The images provide a clash between worlds, offering minimal and aesthetically pleasing compositions that, on closer inspection, instil a sense of ecological grief, asking questions about consumption, idolatry, and that which we value in our lives today.
Courtesy of the Artist and Bildhalle Zürich + Amsterdam @thirzaschaap @bildhalle
*For this year’s #PlasticFreeMzansi, Biru Experiments, Twyg and The Beach Co-op present ‘Unmasked Moments’ a collaborative art project by VIVIERS Studio and Ocean Plastic by Thirza Schaap. Yvonne Brecher is an architect at Biru. Biru Experiments is a platform to collaborate on research and sustainability