A young artist is using photography and found plastic bags to make a beautiful and poignant ethical point
An influx of sustainable art forms is imminent. It’s the new way to be green. Eco artists and fashion designers alike are clearing the way for more organic and ethical means of creation. Step up recent Norwegian photographer and Kingston University graduate Vilde Rolfsen, whose obsession with this generation's throwaway culture has created a unique perspective on the everyday object that challenges social perceptions. Rolfsen’s series, Plastic Bag Landscapes, merges commercial photography with fine art practices, where structures, formed by plastic bags, are transformed by light to reveal ethereal dimensions, reminiscent of snowscapes or icy caverns. The plastic bags used for the project are all sourced from the street, underlining Rolfsen’s ability to extract beauty out of the discarded. Here Another discusses the artistic process with Rolfsen and whether university is still integral for young creatives.
How did the concept behind your work evolve?
When I was really really young, about twelve, I was an abstract painter. I used loads of colour and started to make landscapes within nothing, so it’s weird that in my last year of university I did this. I’ve been through landscape portraiture, feminist photography and social issues so when this year started I got more and more interested in the everyday object, and how we as humans relate to that. I know this sounds really clichéd but I get inspiration from going to the hardware store or to the supermarket or looking at skips or dumps. In England it’s typical to just leave your trash by the bin. In Norway it’s different; you can’t just leave stuff, you have to recycle it.
"I want people to stop and think about the plastic cups lying around and blowing away. No one cares, because it’s normal" — Vilde Rolfsen
I wanted to see what happened when I took one of those objects out of their usual context and placed it in this artificial, stylistic environment. The plastic bag happened by accident. I was carrying all my stuff which I was supposed to photograph in the studio in a plastic bag and I left it on the table top to adjust my camera, and when I looked through it, it looked really cool, so I started to photograph it. When people ask me what I did for my final project and I say “oh, I photographed a plastic bag”, it gets an odd response.
Do you feel art to be a true means of expression?
I’ve never been good at anything except art. I couldn’t do school at all, I was like the troubled child. The only times I actually enjoyed myself at school is when we had arts and crafts and woodwork. I did Media and Communication and that’s when I discovered photography and then it evolved from there.
Do you feel your work has a prevalent social message?
Definitely. I’ve had people come up to me and say: “I’ve seen your work and I’ll never look at a plastic bag the same way again.” I want people to stop and think about the plastic cups lying around and blowing away. No one cares, because it’s normal. I don’t want to make this political statement with my images, I just want to create awareness around the issue, making people aware of it. Using a plastic bag is so stupid when you can just bring your own or use a backpack, it’s so simple.
Has your degree helped you define yourself as an artist?
When I came here I wanted to be a fashion photographer which I don’t want to do anymore after being here and being taught that art photography is actually something, because I didn’t know that existed. My degree has helped me think about art and other people’s art in a critical way, that I previously wouldn’t have known how to do. It’s weird. I think you should have had some form of education like an internship or worked with someone as their assistant. If I hadn’t done this sort of degree I might still have initiated this project, but I may not have had as much exposure as I do now. To have a set of teachers, facilities and other students has been a platform. It’s how you take it in. I think if you’re an artist you should pursue that or whatever career you decide. It’s difficult to live as an artist in this day and age hoping that your work will speak for itself.
Text by India Van Spall