Artist Hugo McCloud, known for using unusual medium choices such as aluminum sheeting, tar paper, scrap metal and solder, spent his quarantine in Mexico, layering together tiny pieces of plastic bag waste. The result is a 31-piece exhibition dubbed Burdened, recently on display at the Sean Kelly Gallery in Hudson Yards, New York.
The artwork is a statement against the environmental impact of single-use plastic, but it’s also a response to the hardships of the human condition. The final pieces reflect the lives and tell a story of individuals potentially impacted by the journey of a single plastic bag.
“Traveling in India, I saw multicolor polypropylene plastic sacks everywhere and started to understand their downcycle, from the companies that purchased and used them to distribute their products, down to the trash pickers in Dharavi slums,” McCloud explained. “The idea that these plastic bags would always be around — never biodegrade — interested me, curious about the hands and lives of the many people they would pass through.”
The artistic process eliminates the need for glues or paints, relying instead on many thin layers of plastic-bag bits. The outcome requires planning, because the plastic is fused onto the panel with the heat from an iron. This type of art can’t be painted over, so the visions were clearly outlined from the start.
The Burdened exhibition is aptly named, sending a message of human hardship, with struggle communicated through the posturing of the subjects, who are seen hauling garbage and products. The daily tasks represented in the works speak to worldwide economic adversities and the brutal honesty of sheer survival. For his third solo exhibition with the gallery, McCloud said the collection is, “about the idea of the person that is burdened in life, trying to survive, or make ends meet. I think in some regards, everybody is burdened in their own way in life.”
In addition to the theme of daily challenges, McCloud focuses on the plight of migrants in the Mediterranean refugee crisis making the treacherous journey across the sea in hopes of an escape from oppression and poverty. The works communicate the need for hope and opportunities at a better life in a different land. McCloud also includes a small collage of flower arrangements, a focused effort to bring brightness to a time that has carried a heavy cloud for us all. The artist said he needed to “find a moment in each day for something that was in a sense still beautiful and still light.”
More of McCloud’s work can be seen at an exhibition at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut in June 2021.
Photography by Jason Wyche, images via SKNY