Artist transforms refuse into critique of consumer culture

Virginia Fleck

Virginia Fleck

Wright Gallery
Sept. 1 – Oct. 15

Reception:
Tuesday, Sept. 23
5 – 7 p.m.

Austin visual artist Virginia Fleck’s critique of what she calls “our consumerist society,” presented in a series of circular mandalas created from plastic shopping bags and product packaging material, will be on exhibit Sept. 1 – Oct. 15 in the Texas A&M College of Architecture’s Wright Gallery, located on the second floor of Building A of the Langford Architecture Center on the Texas A&M campus.

A reception for the exhibit, "Full Circle: The Plastic Bag, 10 Years of Consumerism + Sprituality," will be held at the gallery 5 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23.

“From a distance, Fleck's mandalas are works of beauty, drawing you in,” wrote Steve Bennett of the San Antonio Express News. “Then you begin to realize they are made from Walgreens bags and toilet paper packaging.”

Fleck, who has been working with consumer-related refuse like shopping bags and product packaging since 2002, said she creates the wall-sized mandalas with the intention of revealing the hidden beauty of the overlooked, disposable materials while making a cultural observation.

Mandalas, she said, appear in some form in almost every religion or spiritual practice, with carefully chosen symbols and imagery that provide guidance on one's path to enlightment.

"My choice of medium, plastic bags, imbues my seemingly irreverent mandalas with a contemporary narrative that allows me to analyze the activity of consumerism as a spiritual encounter," she said. "Our current plastic bag inundation is emblematic of our consumer society. These mandalas, each crafted from thousands of used plastic bags imprinted with familiar logos and slogans, are meant to be both humorous and unnerving. ”

Fleck said she enjoys altering the consumer messages found on plastic bags.

“I like to think that I am subverting these slogans and logos into a critique of their original purpose, which would be to seduce us into unconscious patterns of consumerist excess,” she said. They contain and brand our passions while attesting to our belief in the American Dream."

Fleck’s work has been exhibited widely in the United States and Europe, in venues including Art Forum Berlin, Pulse Miami and New York and Arte Fiera in Bologna, Italy. Her work is in many prestigious collections, including the permanent holdings of the United States Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda and the Marino Golinelli collection in Bologna, Italy. 

Fleck was born in New York City. She began making artwork in childhood and eventually studied at the Portland School of Art in Portland, Maine and at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston before moving to Austin in 1990.

The display of Fleck’s work kicks off a series of exhibits scheduled for the Wright Gallery this academic year, including shows by Russell Reid, artist, painter and assistant professor of the practice in the departments of visualization and landscape architecture and urban planning; Wells Mason, designer and sculptor; Jennifer Chenowith, sculptor and painter; Lauren McAdams Selden, metal sculptor and Michelle Robinson, an artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios and an outstanding alumna of the College of Architecture.

posted September 9, 2014