The Toxic Waste on Your Back



Creative Commons Licence




Created date

February 9, 2019

Critical Commentary

Caption Statement: This image is meant to bring to the fore the layering of toxicity in our contemporary moment. In particular, it speaks to our dependence on petrolium and the lifecycle(s) of plastic. Here, the viewer is presented with a photograph of a black women's puffer jacket from the online retailer Everlane in the plastic bag from which it was shipped. The viewer is immediately confronted with text printed on the polybag that reads "This ia a poly bag. Almost every manufactured good that ships from a factory comes in one. This one is made from reycled plastic. Please recycle it again." Within the poly bag, though, the Everlane jacket itself is claimed to have been produced from 15 "renewed" (recycled) plastic bottles. Taken together, this image at once comments on the potentialities of using industrial or post-comsumer waste (espeically waste that is not biodegradable) into objects of beauty or utiliy, as well as subverting the inverse of this materiality: the continual use and implications of virgin plastic (in fashion and other domains). 

Design Statement: I think because this is an image of apparel (among other things) it invites the reader to try an idea/concept/worldview on for size. Clothing largely serves as a boundary object between human - nature/environment. On the one hand, it could potentially protect one's body from toxicity in a multitile of ways: from physical/materual toxic substances (here I'm thinking of hazmat suits, bee-keeper apparel), to toxic environments (NASA space-suits could fit into this category), but also from socially toxic encounters by choosing to dress in a particular way. In this light, clothing can be seeing as a shield to toxicity. On the other hand, apparel repurposed from once (and potentially currrently) toxic substances engenders space to think about what it means to wear toxicity. Wearing toxicity could be read as an index: here, the Everlane jacket coud index the toxicity of plastic waste as a global probem. But here I'm thnking more about the embodied aspects of wearing potentially toxic material: how does this image, then, invite the viewer to think about what it means to have these repurposed materials enter the apparel market? What does it feel like to wear recycled polyster? What are the implications of this? 


Begey, Melissa. 2019. “The Toxic Waste on Your Back.” In Toxic Fashion, created by Melissa Begey. In Visualizing Toxic Subjects Digital Exhibit, curated by James Adams and Kim Fortun. The Center for Ethnography. February 9.