“Night at Your Museum 2019”: Appreciating art in a plastic world
Claudia Olson ’22 | Features Editor
This past Friday, I attended “Night at Your Museum 2019,” hosted by the Smith College Museum of Art. The event could be described as a party, an art exhibit and an educational experience combined. The theme of the night was “We Dream of Polymer Jellies,” referring to the art on display, most of which was either made from plastic or highlighted the abundance of plastic that currently exists on Earth. The titular jellyfish, made of streams of plastic, ribbon and string lights, hung in the basement of the museum. In the dark room, everyone’s eyes were drawn to these haunting illuminated figures. On the ribbons hung small tags with wishes for the future, written in fluorescent ink. Each visitor was encouraged to add a wish for our future world, a world more damaged and unstable than ever before. My wish, glowing in highlighter yellow, was that I could find a way to help future generations cope with existence on a dying planet. After seeing the massive amounts of trash and destruction depicted in the art, I realized that if we are at, or approaching, a point of no return — where we cannot undo the damage humanity has wreaked on the earth — I can at least try to help the generations after me find some stability in this chaos.
Although I was entranced by these plastic pieces, I was conflicted about how to appreciate them. I wanted to admire their beauty, but I did not want to ignore the fact that they were created as forms of protest. Several pieces, like a weaving of plastic bags and a chandelier of water bottles, were created out of found materials, highlighting how these objects are produced and discarded at a destructive rate. It felt odd to celebrate these pieces because I had no desire to celebrate the mass consumerism and production that created them. Similarly, I felt conflicted about the event as a whole. It was advertised as a “party,” but what were we celebrating? As I watched other students take selfies in front of the pieces and post on Instagram about this “party,” I felt like the point of the exhibit was lost. I wish the power of the room of jellyfish, where visitors solemnly wished for a better future, had carried over to the rest of the museum. Though I understand that not nearly as many students would have showed up if the event was a sobering reflection on the environmental crisis, I think that the message would have been much more powerful if it was taken a little more seriously.
I was able to come back to the museum the next day and take in the exhibit without the distraction of any festivities around me. I could process the pieces better and reflect on the messages they were conveying, both as separate pieces and as a collection. I’m glad that this exhibit exists and that it will remain in the museum for the rest of the semester. It’s important to remind people of the implications of their actions, even at a liberal college like Smith. I think that too often we pretend to care about issues like climate change and pollution, but we don’t bother to take any real action beyond sharing a headline on social media every once in a while. I realized that this issue deeply affects all of us, even if it’s not obvious at the moment. If we actually want to make change, we have to act quickly and be loud. Donate to political campaigns that are trying to create policies that fight climate change. Make art with an environmental message. Call and write to members of Congress. Reduce the amount of plastic you buy and trash you create. Contribute what you can to this cause so that we are not the last generation that can comfortably inhabit this earth. If “Night at Your Museum” taught me anything, it’s that sometimes it takes a spectacle to capture the attention of people living amidst a crisis.