Plastic Animals

In 1913 Germany alone imported 30 million litres of milk from as far away as New Zealand to make a new material. An experiment had resulted in a discovery and this transport seemed reasonable at the time to add to the snowballing production of trinkets of every kind. No one asked the cows of course or thought about the consequences, breeding ruminants on mass, taking their milk to produce, among other things, buttons. What is it about materiality, these histories and consequences, this intra-active relationship, that we still, at this late stage, must learn? 

I think of animals and how I imagine their forms – what does a whale look like really? Or an eel? In a week of rage and despair at human insensitivity, I drew 130 animals, searching for the essence of their character, using a thick paintbrush and a visceral, broken-pink gesso sauce to prohibit fiddly accuracy, only allowing the essential impression. As the next animal crashed into my stream of consciousness, I would quickly search for images and paint them directly without correction. It was alarming that so many were shown dead, this massive data base of online imagery documenting everything humans see and do. Could I paint 30 million? One for each litre of milk?

And so the series, If You Could Feel Our Sadness You Would Drown in Your Own Tears, started. Frames were sourced, some broken and derelict, to be repaired and made precious with fine silver leaf, every aspect of the material construction touched and cared for, the glass, the paper backing, the silver loop to attach the work to the wall. A hand made nail. Parallel I was searching for something else, direct and expressive, that I could work with as I work on paper, a drawing surface with a jewellery history. What would happen if these drawings were they, the new jewellery works, and I could find a material that carried a story in it’s atoms for me to layer on my own narrative? The Galalith was in the box for years and then of course I remembered the milk, as precious as gold. Perfect for making Plastic Animals.

Helen Britton August 2021

The exhibition “Plastic Animals” Opened at Galerie Rob Koudijs in Amsterdam in October 2021