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Plastic and nature intertwine in Emily Ritter's 'Polyflora'

Ritter's thesis project is the first Harry Wood Gallery exhibit of 2018


Visitors look at the "Polyflora" exhibit by Emily Ritter in the Harry Wood Gallery in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018.

Emily Ritter, graduate student in the ASU Herberger Institute, has imagined a possible reality where plastics have fused with organic matter in her cumulative thesis project on display in the Harry Wood Gallery

Ritter’s exhibit, titled “Polyflora," questions and explores the planet’s restorative abilities to respond to ecological distress and toxicity in our environment caused by consumption and waste.

By transforming trash into art, Ritter has created intricate hypothetical hybrid plant species in an effort to highlight the relationship between the natural and artificial world. Her work suggests that nature will evolve to adapt to this new plastic-filled environment, dissolving the distinctions between the two. 

“If we pump all of these plastics into the environment and then we disappear, life is going to have to find a way to deal with it,” Ritter said. 

Having focused on plastic consumption and waste for over six years, out of personal interest, Ritter’s work aims to spark conversation about her imagined reality without being too condescending. 

“Of course I want people to stop using plastic,” Ritter said. “But I think a lot of it now is sort of my obsession with the plastic and trying to figure out how to deal with it by giving it a new life and creating something that is valued.”

Students who attended the opening night of “Polyflora” on Jan. 23 were captivated by Ritter’s innovative use of an uncommon medium.

“It’s different. It’s unique. It is the first artwork that I have seen done out of plastic in this way,” Jonathan Wright, an ASU graduate art student, said. 

Established in 1971 and named after a former ASU professor, the Harry Wood Gallery’s primary function is to serve as a space for Masters of Fine Arts thesis exhibitions. 

"Polyflora” is the first exhibit on display in the Harry Wood Gallery for the spring thesis season, which will feature thesis exhibitions on one- to two-week rotations throughout the semester. 

The Harry Wood Gallery also functions as a venue for other student work, such as the juried Nathan Cummings Foundation exhibition and shows mounted by student art organizations like the Printmaking Students Association.  

“People should come by as much as they can during the (MFA) season," gallery director Grant Vetter said. “I think that they will always be surprised – they will always see something totally different than the week before.”

However, Vetter also said that there is no bad time to visit the gallery.

“The students put all of their heart into these shows and their work always shows that,” he said.

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