Raw Materials explores the forgotten industrial history of plastic in east London around the River Lea. The exhibition reveals the story of east London's central role in the invention and early development of plastics, showcasing some of the very first plastic objects alongside newly commissioned artwork which tells the story of this material’s remarkable journey. The project is supported by The National Lottery with funds awarded through the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as by academic partner University College London.
In Hackney Wick, 1865, Victorian inventor Alexander Parkes created Parkesine – a precursor to celluloid – looking to mimic rare and endangered natural materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell. Parkesine led to the development of the Ivoride Works in Homerton in the late 1860s and eventually to the establishment of the industrially successful British Xylonite Company, which included the eponymous Halex brand in Hale End, Walthamstow.
The exhibition includes the earliest Victorian plastics made by Parkes in the 1860s – surprisingly ornate pieces inlaid with mother of pearl and precious metals – to the later more mass-produced plastics, such as Halex’s ping pong ball (at one time, they produced Europe’s supply!). New commissions from resident designer/maker Peter Marigold and resident artist Frances Scott accompany the historic displays. Marigold uses his own bio-plastic FormCard to explore Parkes’ early mould-making techniques, whereas Scott animates the plastic objects found during the project in her new film PHX (X is for Xylonite).
An extensive events programme accompanies the exhibition, including boat tours along the River Lea, plastic recycling workshops and discussions on the future of plastics. See Bow Arts’ Whats On for more information.