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Meet Virginia

Perhaps the most rewarding thing about blogging is meeting new, exceptionally awesome people. Case in point: the other day, Karly and I got a lovely email from Virginia Fleck, who had heard about our site from super pal Sanders while buying paint at Benjamin Moore. Karly and I just about went into convulsions of joy when we realized Virginia is the artist behind these amazing recycled plastic bag mandalas seen in museums and public spaces all over Austin. Plus she was nominated for the Texas Prize, which is a HUGE bling bling deal around these parts. Plus she won the Juror’s Award at the 2007 Texas Biennial (another really big deal). Check plus she works with teenagers on beautiful ecologically conscious projects. Oh, and she’s a really nice lady, to boot. What’s not to like about Virginia?

virginia fleck

Well, if there is anything, I haven’t figured it out yet. And certainly her artwork is enough to make you a believer in her cause: to “[reveal] the hidden beauty of the overlooked, disposable materials that continually pass through our hands… by collaging pieces of detritus from a consumerist society.”

There is a long tradition of art made from trash — Claes Oldenburg, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, even Marcel Duchamp, to name just a few — but rarely is art made from castoffs so seductive and meditative. According to her artist’s statement, Virginia’s “mandalas made from plastic bags analyze the activity of consumerism as a spiritual encounter.” I find it interesting that she breaks the cycle of numbing, comforting consumption, while translating that feeling into a more sublime experience of color and pattern and movement. The pleasure of viewing and thinking is intangible, but very powerful. See for yourself.

virginia fleck

Can you believe that these used to be castoff, mundane plastic bags? Do they make you want to rifle through your own collection of bags in hopes of making something snazzy? (You DO recycle your bags, right???) The titles are just as good as the visuals. Clockwise from top left: flower pop, allah, heartland, tween.

Let’s take a closer look at some details, shall we?

virginia fleck

virginia fleck

Holy hours upon hours of work! The aptly titled, buymore, features bits of recognizable branding, like Footlocker, Target, and the like. Similarly, liberty co-opts familiar logos and subverts their original intentions to sell, sell, sell (or buy, buy, buy, depending on your perspective):

virginia fleck

virginia fleck

It’s more than a little disconcerting to see Lady Liberty hoisting a shopping bag in her hands, ringed by blankly smiling happy faces. It’s become pretty apparent in the wake of the recent economic collapse that our national identity is connected with the consumerist impulse, and that democracy can be bought in big box stores. As long as our capitalist society is vitally intact, then America lives to reign as Superpower another day. Ok, end of rant. Funny story: during the early days of the Iraq War and all of the anti-France sentiment, a certain person close to me I shall call “X” (no, not Hunny Bunny) refused to shop at Target because he thought it was French owned. It’s not. X, you may have single-handedly killed the US economy.

Back on point! It’s hard to see from the 500 square pixels on your screen, but Virginia’s mandalas range from big to enormous, like 7 feet tall. Let’s check them out in their natural habitat — on the wall:

virginia fleck

At Austin City Hall.

virginia fleck

A groovy backlit version at the Whole Foods headquarters.

virginia fleck

A smaller version featured in Western Interiors. Don’t you feel like you need one for your own wall?

Just when you thought Virginia and her work couldn’t possibly get any cooler, you meet her teen proxies, the Angsty Teenage Eco Warriors:

angsty teengage eco warriors

Virginia has been working with teens for the past five years on ecologically conscious projects rooted in recycling. At this workshop, she taught them to make hip totes out of colored bags, as well as plastic bag mandala clothing.

angsty teengage eco warriors

I would call them adorable, but if memory serves, that is not the proper term for an angsty teenage lady. So I will just say that their interest in the environment is rad, and that their handmade clothing is amazing! Look at that mandala skirt, and I love the plastic bag tank top with matching belt modeled by the pink punk princess. What a great group! Virginia, your desire to educate the next generation in ecological practices brings a tear to my sentimental eye. I used to teach high school, and I know how important it is to start teaching kids to be self reliant skeptics as early as possible.

Oh, Virginia, I have such a crush on you. Your work is pretty AND smart, and you don’t hoard all your goodness to yourself. Talented people everywhere, let this be a lesson to you: Spread the Wealth!

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