Destruction to Desire: Toronto Artist is Turning a Killer into a Collection

Let this sink in: five trillion plastic bags are being used annually each year. According to The World Counts, that’s enough to cover an area twice the size of France.

We’ve all seen the images of turtles with plastic bags over their heads, or straws up their noses. We’ve all seen the dead whales that have consumed dozens of plastic bags because of our irresponsibility. This is not surprising considering annually 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean alone.​

Photos by Amelia Green.

While we continue to drive plastic bags down into the earth, Stephanie Cormier is fusing them into something beautiful.

Stephanie Cormier is a Toronto-based single mom, working full-time to support herself and her nine-year-old daughter. While juggling the hand that was dealt to her, she is a professional artist, taking one of our biggest enemies and melting it into art.  She hopes that one day, people will look at her pieces and not recognize the material. 

“It’s interesting that I’m using [plastic bags] at a time where they’re everywhere and a nuisance," says Cormier. "They should be banned."

“I’m wondering if they will be and it’ll become more of a special product. Something that becomes rare and eventually people will look at this and say, ‘What is that?’”

When looking for inspiration, Cormier came across Gee's Bend, an remote African American community in Alabama, U.S. As early as the 1920s, the women of Gee's Bend created revolutionary quilts by transforming and recycling used work clothes, feed sacks and fabric remnants.

“They were resourceful and used fabric that was falling apart, making it into beautiful quilts that now compare to abstract impressionist masters works," says Cormier. "They’re very much sort of outsider art that is now recognised as great works of art."

Cormier took inspiration frrom the idea of repurposing old, readily available materials and began taping plastic bags together to form her pieces.

“I started ironing them and just used the resist paper to iron them together,” she says. “Now, I iron other substances into it and add patterns in. There’s no glue in there at all, I’m just using heat to bind them together.”

Cormier chose to use plastic bags becayse of the various colours they are produced in, and because she wanted to take an everyday product and incorporate it into her work.

She says she wanted to "infuse my daily life with my art practice more and in that way, make my daily life more meaningful. So, taking items like bread bags, collecting them, amassing them and making them into something that has more meaning for myself.”

While Cormier’s work can be respected for using plastic in a positive, uninvasive way, this wasn’t originally what she had planned.

“I wouldn’t say I’m trying to make a statement or send a message out,” says Cormier. “But I want that to be part of the obvious. I’m more interested in being resourceful and resilient. I keep using those two words instead of recycling.”

In the context of today and with the recent worldwide school walkouts in protest of global warming, it will be interesting to see how art like Cormier’s ages. It is significant that this was made at the peak of plastic bag usage.

Her latest piece has been a Daily Bread Project, in which she produces one square piece a day using bread bags. The project will result in 365 pieces on one wall to form a calendar piece.

Cormier calls her work subversive. The project "takes something that is mass produced and destructive and [makes] something that’s considered beautiful," she says.