Special Collections Research Center Contributes to University of Toronto Art Museum Exhibition on Plastics

Multiple artifacts from Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center’s (SCRC) Plastics Artifact Collection are currently on display in the University of Toronto Art Museum exhibition titled, “Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through.” This exhibition, open from September 8 through November 20, 2021,draws on the existing work of the Synthetic Collective, an interdisciplinary collaboration of visual artists, cultural workers, and scientists based in Canada. The exhibition features data visualizations, artworks created by the Synthetic Collective in response to their research, as well as new commissions by contemporary artists from the Great Lakes Region. Also included in the exhibition are historical installations, including the artifacts on loan from SCRC, and objects that used early plastics that are now degrading, evoking questions of conservation and preservation in museum culture. This exhibition spotlights the connections between scientific and artistic methodologies and challenges the viewer to explore how arts-based approaches to thinking and working can make viable contributions to environmental science and activism.

SCRC’s Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, Courtney Asztalos, will be participating in the “Plastic Heart” exhibition public programming as a member of the panel discussion “Dialogue # 3: The Plastic Conservation Conundrum: Preserving Plastics in Museum Collections and Plastics’ Durability in the Environment” on Wednesday, October 13, 6pm–7:30pm EDT. Asztalos says, “The Synthetic Collective’s groundbreaking work in their experimental exhibition “Plastic Heart: Surface All the Way Through” brings necessary awareness to the plastics lifecycle in exhibition-making, art and collections while proposing exciting alternative models and methods forward for change. I am thrilled to participate in a conversation on how plastic cultural artifacts within the context of special collections pose unique challenges and opportunities, emphasizing how SCRC’s plastics collections are rich resources for researchers and artists to investigate for activism, and unearth for the creation of new scholarship and artmaking. As a special collections curator, I am committed to bringing greater awareness to the broader public about how our collections can support innovation, change and agency within our current global plastics pollution crisis.”

“The Plastics Collection”, initially conceptualized as an umbrella term for the plastics-related collections at SCRC, serves as a research and programming resource to advance the study and understanding of plastics in modern society. These collections include manuscripts, photographs, time-based media, books, periodicals and over 5,000 plastic objects produced from the late 19th century to the present day. To learn more about the SCRC’s collections in this subject area, please visit https://library.syr.edu/scrc/collections/areas/plastics.php.

More information regarding the Plastic Heart exhibition, public programming and registration information can be found at https://artmuseum.utoronto.ca/exhibition/plastic-heart/.

Image of Courtney Asztalos, curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, superimposed on Plastic Heart exhibition. Image credit: Synthetic Collective


PlastiVan® Visits Syracuse University Libraries

Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center hosted a visit from the PlastiVan® on April 26, 2019.  The PlastiVan® is sponsored by SPE Foundation, an association of more than 22,000 members uniting plastics professionals worldwide and committed to making the plastics world better by providing a forum that generates awareness of issues facing the plastics community to identify solutions that will benefit everyone. The PlastiVan® program travels to schools and companies throughout North America, educating people of all ages about plastics chemistry, history, processing, manufacturing, sustainability and applications.

High school student sitting at table in library working beside Libraries curator
Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central student (left) works with Syracuse University Libraries’ Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, Courtney Asztalos (right) during PlastiVan® field trip.

The PlastiVan® provided a unique field trip for forty local Syracuse high school students from the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central. PlastiVan® CEO, Eve Vitale, delivered onsite PlastiVan® instruction sessions complete with hands on scientific experiments. Syracuse University Libraries’ Curator of Plastics and Historical Artifacts, Courtney Asztalos, provided one-hour sessions in the Lemke Room showcasing the Libraries’ historical plastics collections.

“The Libraries’ plastics collection is truly unique,” said Courtney Asztalos. “It provides an opportunity to unite chemistry, engineering and history. And the PlastiVan® program helps to spark that curiosity.”

“This is a great opportunity to provide experiential learning to high school students in the area,” said Dean David Seaman, Librarian and Dean of Syracuse University Libraries. “SU Libraries is committed to educating those in our campus and broader community.”