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Sara Ullström

Sara Ullström

PhD Student

Sara Ullström

Making visible, rendering obscure : Reading the plastic crisis through contemporary artistic visual representations


  • Ekaterina Chertkovskaya
  • Karl Holmberg
  • Moa Petersén
  • Johannes Stripple
  • Sara Ullström

Summary, in English

Since the mid-twentieth century, plastic has become a ubiquitous material. However, its produc- tion, consumption and disposal on a massive scale have led to a range of devastating conse- quences that together form the ‘plastic crisis’. This paper presents a novel mapping of the ways contemporary artistic visual representations narrate and politicize the plastic crisis through their different messages and aesthetics. Drawing on a multifaceted understanding of the plastic crisis and on how art navigates political and aesthetic spheres, an analysis of 35 artworks is con- ducted. Ocean plastic pollution emerges as a dominant theme, together with disposability; and these are connected to consumption patterns and consumer responsibility. However, less atten- tion is given to plastic’s dependence on fossil fuels and possible toxicity. The result is art of strik- ing beauty and emotional resonance, but that downplays the systemic nature of the plastic crisis and the urgent need to hold manufacturers and regulators to account.


  • Environmental and Energy Systems Studies
  • Department of Political Science
  • Division of ALM, Digital Cultures and Publishing Studies
  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Publishing year





Global Sustainability



Document type

Journal article


Cambridge University Press


  • Visual Arts


  • art
  • disposability
  • fossil dependency
  • pollution
  • plastic




  • Narrating Climate Futures
  • STEPS – Sustainable Plastics and Transition Pathways, Phase 1
  • REINVENT Realising Innovation in Transitions for Decarbonisation


  • ISSN: 2059-4798