If you were to write a letter to your great great great grandchildren, what would you write? It’s worth thinking about, considering that the ramifications of our actions today can extend into their lifetimes and even further beyond. Such is the case with our plastic consumption.
Plastic can take hundreds of years to break down, if at all. Vietnamese creative agency Ki Saigon has decided to make this more than a hypothetical question and released a project titled Letters to the Future. They asked dozens of people to write letters to their distant future relatives and printed them in books made from discarded plastics, a material that will still be intact when future generations get around to reading them.
Kumkum Fernando, a co-founder of the agency and the creative director for the project, says the idea was sparked when he learned that every piece of plastic made since the material’s invention is still here on Earth. “We mindlessly use plastic in our daily lives and don’t really think how long the bottle or plastic bag that came along with it will last,” he says. The scale of plastic waste is difficult to comprehend. An estimated eight million metric tons of plastic from around the world end up in the oceans each year, a number that keeps rising. Much of this plastic ends up swirling around in one of five floating garbage patches, the biggest of which is three times the size of France. Some studies suggest that 80 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from Asia, although more recent studies point out that a significant amount of that plastic was shipped from the US and the UK. Many Asian countries, including Vietnam, have recently banned the import of plastic waste.
To raise awareness about the lifespan of plastic, Ki Saigon went to work on the Letters project. First, they reached out to friends and family, asking them to write the letters. The first entry was penned by Fernando’s mother. “There were some really touching and personal stories and learnings,” he says. “Some people even shared secrets they would never share with anyone and decided to stay anonymous.” The team ended up with letters from 22 countries written in 30 languages, and each letter has an English translation printed alongside it. “Since most of the letters wished for optimism and peace for the generations to come, we came to think of the book as like a prayer.” So the first page of each book starts with the line, “This is a prayer to the future.”
Ki Saigon 的书信项目旨在提高人们对塑料的认知。他们首先邀请了各自的亲朋好友参与到书信项目中，收到的第一封信由 Kumkum 母亲所写。Kumkum 说：“信中有一些非常感人的故事和经历，有的人甚至分享了他们从未透露过的秘密，并以匿名的形式发表。” 最终，团队收到了来自 22 个国家、30 种语言完成的信件，每封信旁边都印有英文翻译。“大多数信件的内容都寄予了希望，祝子孙后代幸福安康、愿世界和平之类的话，像是某种对未来的祈祷。”
后来，“对未来的祈祷”（This is a prayer to the future.）这句话，也因此被印在了信集的首页。
To gather materials for the books, the agency teamed up with local recyclers to collect plastic from the streets of Saigon. They sought out thin sheet plastic like bottles, wrappers, bubble wrap, plastic bags, and thin Styrofoam. Once collected, they washed and ironed it all flat, even melting down some thicker plastics like straws, cups, and bottle caps for certain pages. Each page is unique and has its own texture and color that reveal hints of the original material. Even the stitching for the book is plastic.
Next, illustrator Luong Doo from the Ki Saigon team created designs as a visual break from the dense text, which were spraypainted and stenciled into the book. They then silkscreen printed photos of the letters directly onto the pages. “I felt that was very important for us to preserve,” Fernando says of the authors’ original writing. The handwritten Mandarin, Japanese, Burmese, and much more create additional diversity to the already colorful pages. The team will eventually publish all of the letters with translations on the project’s website.
Ki Saigon also designed an exhibition to showcase the books in person. Additional pieces were made with the same techniques and materials, and the project was reimagined as installation art. For the exhibition, tapestries woven from plastic hang in an all-blue gallery space. Each piece seems to shimmer and glow from light caught in the semi-transparent colors of the salvaged materials. Many of the pieces either depict or resemble fish, and combined with the sea-blue surroundings, it’s an adept reminder of the state of our neglected oceans. The show is currently closed due to COVID, but Ki Saigon has plans of taking the show abroad, with exhibitions planned for China and Malaysia.
除此之外，Ki Saigon 团队还筹办展览来展示信集，并以同样的工艺制作了更多作品。他们还以装置艺术的形式对塑料话题进行了重新构想：在纯蓝色的画廊空间，悬挂采用塑料编织而成的挂毯，这些回收来的塑料透过灯光变得交辉相映。挂毯中多数描绘了鱼的图案，与海蓝色灯光营造的室内环境相得益彰，巧妙地提醒观众关注海洋问题。该展览目前因新冠疫情而停止开放，但 Ki Saigon 准备将展览带到国外，他们计划在中国和马来西亚举办。
Contributor: Mike Steyels
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li