The plastic bag. A swansong exhibition

Is the plastic bag a cultural artefact, or the cause a rubbish problem? There was a time when the plastic bag – the means of conveying our precious purchases from shop to home – was seen as the positive expression of a prosperous consumer culture. No matter what the purchase, whether everyday household items, a special bargain or expensive luxury goods – everything went into a plastic bag, without a second thought. The plastic bag also served as an advertising space, and companies hired graphic designers to communicate their brand through this medium. Today the plastic bag has become a massive environmental problem and, regarded almost as taboo, is gradually disappearing from our daily lives. In 1980 the Haus Industrieform in Essen presented an exhibition dedicated solely to the multitude of corporate claims printed on plastic bags. Today, the Adieu Plastiktüte! (Farewell Plastic Bags!) exhibition in the Museum of Everday Culture in Waldenbuch, near Stuttgart, is a swansong for an everyday household item whose social and ecological value has undergone a drastic shift. On show until 3 July 2020, the exhibition will present around 50,000 plastic bags dating from 1968 to 2010, sorted into cultural and historical categories. Due to their vast number, the exhibits will be changed every four weeks. While the exhibition presents visitors with successful designs, curious compositions and amusing corporate claims, it also illustrates the facts of the environmental crisis. The tote bag, with its promise of replacing the plastic bag for good, is now used by designers to attract our attention through statements and unusual designs.

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