Mary Ellen Croteau has used plastic as a medium for her work for years, ever since she started thinking about the amount of unrecyclable plastic she was accumulating. "I'd go to the store and buy two items and get three bags," she says. She began braiding the bags, making a 225-foot-long rope with them over the course of seven months, then moved on to knotting, crocheting, and making rugs.
In 2009 she started to make hanging columns of plastic bottle caps. "I noticed that the little ones kept getting caught in one another, and they reminded me of the circles of paint that Chuck Close uses," she says. "And I thought, oh, I'll do a self-portrait like Chuck Close, but just out of plastic bottle caps and see what kind of range of color I can get from the bottle caps.
"I wanted to use them in a way that would spark some kind of thought about how much people use. So when I started asking people to save them for me, they kind of contributed to the process by thinking about the amount they're actually consuming."
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