Fish made of bubble wrap swim beneath lily-covered ponds made of plastic bottles in Montreal's Eaton Centre mall. Cardboard trees adorn the walls, and water, made of yet more empty bottles, pours down the sides of the escalators. 'Fragile,' a new installation by artists Peter Gibson (AKA Roadsworth) and Brian Armstrong, has transformed the mall into an ecosystem of discarded items found in the mall's trash bins. The numbers are pretty astounding: Roughly 20,000 water bottles and more 10,000 square feet of cardboard was used to create the artificial landscape. (It took the artists about eight months of dumpster-diving to come up with all of that stuff.)
Gibson isn’t exactly known for his mall art; he made a name for himself starting in 2001 by painting bike lanes and other symbols on the streets of Montreal to raise awareness about car culture and transportation issues. In 2004, he was famously arrested and charged with 53 counts of mischief. But just because Gibson is now working for the mall, doesn’t mean his work isn’t still subversive.
According to the artist’s statement, the Fragile ecosystem wasn’t intended to look or feel like a perfect copy of nature. Instead, its beauty lies in its artificiality, emphasizing the difference between the manufactured and natural worlds. “The orderly arrangement of bottles that make up the waterfalls and pond and the regular placement of trees along architectural lines satisfy a longing for order and the illusion that we are somehow above the messiness and chaos of the natural world, an artificial representation of nature preferable perhaps to the reality of it,” says the statement.
The venue for such an installation couldn’t be more perfect. In the middle of a consumerist mecca, shoppers are confronted with a mini ecosystem of their own trash. “I’d like to think it’s an uncomfortable feeling to see a fairly significant architectural space filled in with plastic water bottles, for example, or to see columns covered in cardboard,” Gibson told the Canadian Press.