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GALLERIES

Plastic is persistent. And so were organizers of this Arlington art installation

A view of Michelle Lougee's installation in Arlington, inspired by aquatic microorganisms.
A view of Michelle Lougee's installation in Arlington, inspired by aquatic microorganisms.Asia Kepka/Courtesy Michelle Lougee

ARLINGTON — Plastic persists, breaking down into microplastics, which fish eat — and if we eat fish, we also eat plastic. But there’s another reason “Persistence: A Community Response to Pervasive Plastic,” an installation by Michelle Lougee along the Minuteman Bikeway, got its title.

“It’s also the persistence it took everyone to get through this time, and who helped our project persist,” said organizer Cecily Miller, public art curator for the Arlington Commission of Arts & Culture.

The project kicked off late last year, with rosy hopes of community crafters coming together to crochet plastic bags. Lougee would turn the components they made into sculptures of aquatic microorganisms and suspend them from trees along the Bikeway overlooking Spy Pond. Workshops and meetups kept the momentum going. Miller says more than 100 people were collecting plastic, flattening, and folding it into plastic yarn, and doing the needlework.

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Then came the fog of COVID-19.

“Do the plastic bags hold the virus? Can we quarantine them? Nobody really knew the answers,” Miller said.

Miller and Lougee forged ahead with plastic the sculptor had in storage. The social element of the project came to a halt. They posted online resources for volunteers at home.

“It couldn’t take the place of a quilting bee,” Miller said, “but we did gain a participant from New Orleans.”

A view of Michelle Lougee's installation in Arlington.
A view of Michelle Lougee's installation in Arlington.Asia Kepka

“We had people who did more than they would have done without the pandemic,” Lougee said. “Some people were happy to have this to focus on.”

Still, the initial crowd of volunteers shrank.

“That same Arlington spirit that wants to mobilize and do the right thing — people were making masks,” Miller said. “Environmental causes became eclipsed, between the pandemic and the urgency of violent racism.”

Even so, Lougee and her crew reached the finish line last week, when “Persistence” was installed, four months behind schedule. It features 37 bright, plastic sculptures bobbing along the Bikeway — some bottle shaped, some tentacled, some fashioned from gathered tubes or bulbs — made of roughly 600 parts crafted by helpers.

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“The components that came back were not all the way I would have created them,” Lougee said. “But that’s great. Now they’re on the bike path, and [volunteers] can look up and say, ‘that’s mine.’”

PERSISTENCE: A Community Response to Pervasive Plastic

At Minuteman Bikeway near Spy Pond between Linwood Street and Swan Way, Arlington, through Oct. 31, 2021. www.artsarlington.org/artist-in-residence


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.