Published October 26. 2012 4:00AM
The earth contours into the shape of a single tear-drop; encapsulated within an abstract landscape. Marching around it, in a backdrop of orange, is the phrase: "100% Biodegradable."
But plastic bags are not biodegradable, and this is precisely the tragedy that Aymar Ccopacatty literally makes into art - calling his abstract landscapes made with discarded plastic bags "plasti-collage."
These intriguing and colorful paintings are on view at Expressiones Gallery until Nov. 17. Through a partnership with I-Park Foundation, which has an artist residency program in East Haddam, Guido Garaycochea selected Ccopacatty to exhibit at his gallery on Bank Street in New London.
Much of Ccopacatty's work depicts the environmentally sensitive area 12,000 feet above sea level in Puno, Peru, where a community of people, called the Aymara, live around the shores of the pristine, ecologically significant Lake Titicaca.
"The point in me making the landscapes is that I am expressing my memory of what the place is like, the beauty of it, but I'm also expressing with the plastic what is killing it," said Ccopacatty.
He has spent parts of his life in Peru, as well as America, majoring in sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design. His father is an Aymara and is currently living in Rhode Island.
The Aymara people can be situated in Peru or Bolivia, yet they do not belong to either country culturally. They have their own traditions, language and way of life - all of which Ccopacatty wishes to preserve.
Change is coming to the lives of the Aymara, and with greater prosperity in Peru, the effect is being seen even in Puno. There are more disposable items - things like tuna fish cans and plastic bottles and, of course, the strewn remains of consumerism: the plastic bag.
When collecting bags, Ccopacatty looks for color, and he is intrigued with symbols and writing. He chooses the color he needs solely through the bags, using no paint. Through an acrylic process, he collages the work to create the flat, abstract landscapes punctuated with strips of color. He escapes the rigidity associated with plastic by infusing a fluidity and surprising harmony in his composition.
At the exhibit, he also shows a cityscape: the busy, jumbled excitement of Lima, the capital city of Peru. In this work, the vibrancy of the city is so palpable it gives off a visual noise. But when lake Titicaca is depicted, serenity settles over the water as the sky drapes into ripples of nightfall; soon its vibrant colors will disappear into the inky mystery of the lake. A sliver of moon curls around the jarring red logo that says: "easy."
But life for the Aymara is not easy. Nighttime winter temperatures can plunge to zero degrees. Puno, Peru, is part of what is called the Altiplano, in the highest parts of the Andes mountains between southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia.
"It is one of the poorest areas of Peru," says Guido Garaycochea, who is also a native of Peru.
Garaycochea says he was attracted to having Ccopacatty exhibit in part because of the dichotomy in the art.
"By having him here working in a non-traditional material connected to one of the most remote places of Peru, I thought it would be a good opportunity to show an artist working hard, doing non-commercial work, doing something honest and very deep in feeling," he says.
In his plastic paintings, another dichotomy exists, and it is seen distinctly in the cityscape of Lima and the landscape of the Altiplano Peru, says Ccopacatty.
The city, he says, is dominating the country, a struggle to which he wants to draw attention. It is a struggle of man over nature - the city that caters to consumers and a more easy life - or nature over man - the country, where man must adapt to the climate and conditions.
"We live with nature," Ccopacatty says.
He is concerned that, with the sure progression of time, even the culture and traditions of the remote Aymara people will be polluted, symbolized, perhaps, by the permanence of the bags that do not disintegrate into the earth.
"It's scary to me because we need to catch up to ourselves," says Ccopacatty.
He notes that, in Peru, the novelty of big box stores from Chile are seen as beacons of progress. People are insulted if you refuse a plastic bag for your items. Using a plastic bag is now an emblem of prosperity.
Ccopacatty also has an interest in textiles, and some of his paintings depict pre-Columbian textile symbols. He works in textile, a laborious undertaking that involves creating a sort of yarn from the plastic bags and then weaving it in looms.
It is a process inspired by what he saw his grandmother do - taking her bags from the market and weaving those into rope to tether her sheep - but in this case the material was a fiber.
"My grandmother never threw anything away," says Ccopacatty, reflecting on his own reluctance to be a consumer.
Loathe to waste, Ccopacatty recalls how at RISD he dove into Dumpsters at the school for much of his material.
Now six years out of RISD, Ccopacatty is dedicated to his native town of Puno. It is a place Garaycochea compares to a "nest" for the young artist, who admits that working with recycled plastic has consumed him. If he collects them, or is given some, he is compelled to use up all of them.
"I think I will work with the material until I see a change in culture in Peru," Ccopacatty says.