Along the coast of South Africa, Thirza Schaap collects discarded bottles and shopping bags to create fanciful sculptures, often to photograph them afterwards.
The juxtaposition of repulsion and beauty is imperative in these images; Thirza aims to break down these barriers by challenging our perception of what we find attractive. These photos are beautiful, but also highlight a disturbing reality.
A white flower sits on a vase made of disheveled plastic with specks of light scattered around it. A bottle shaped from bits and pieces comes to life as you can almost grasp it from the background. There is a kind of ‘eerie beauty’ to these objects transformed by Thirza Schaap; pieces of plastic she picked from the coast of Cape Town and turned into peculiar photographs; bits of trash once off-putting now turned pretty.
From witnessing how debris would wash onto the local beach like confetti in the sand, Schaap was inspired to start Plastic Ocean as an ongoing project “to raise awareness around pollution…to try and prevent, or at least reduce, the use of plastic.” Straws, flip-flops, toothbrushes, bottles, and more are collected, dried, and carefully sorted to create a surreal collage. Re-shaped still life arrangements, the items are shot on pastel sheets of paper or sand in bright, natural daylight. The effect is quirky, playful, and pop; paradoxically, this debris does not disgust us. Their dainty look seems to gloss over the urgency of plastic pollution on our beaches, but this first impression soon fades.
The flotsam looks uncomfortably beautiful. Schaap plays with this using and adding dusty colors, striking shadows, and everyday odds. Her work seems to play a game asking whether these objects‘ aesthetic appeal can outweigh their utilitarian dullness and, in the case of Schaap‘s objects, the danger they represent.
Despite their sweet allure, Schaap’s images are also deeply troubling. There has, after all, been a global party, and these pictures are glimpses of its ugly aftermath, shards of the unsustainable volume of refuse from our collective voraciousness. As sites of celebration so often appear the morning after, Schaap’s compositions are full of spent enjoyment, of things now devoid of use, faded, deflated, or broken. These things have been thrown away, but they persist, unable to decompose, resisting deletion.