Kampa Penguins at Night, Photo taken by David McKelvey
The city of Prague is known for magnificent castles and architecture but also has a huge public art scene. Sculptures and statues can be found all over the city that represents major historical events and the people who helped shape the city seen today. The Penguins at Kampa Park represents a history that can be found all over the world and is at the forefront of the discussion about climate change: plastic. Plastic varies in the amount of time it takes to decompose when placed in a landfill. It could take from as little as 10 years to over 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decompose, or over 450 years for a plastic bottle. Most of the plastic objects we use day to day will outlive us. The Cracking Art Group took on this challenge to present how we can recycle plastic to make something beautiful out of the mundane.
The Cracking Art Group is part of a movement that focuses on the creation of urban installations using the giant animals that are made from recyclable and colored plastics. The movement was born in 1993 in Biella, Italy. The group originally consisted of six individuals, but currently only has five. The goal of their art in the last few years was to bring artificial items, plastics, together with nature, animal figures. Their designs can be found all over the world and are stunning. One of the most recent works is The Penguins at Kampa Park which was installed in 2016.
Kampa Park is located on Kampa Island which is thinly separated by the Vltava River in central Prague. This small part of the Vltava River that separates the island from the mainland is called “Malá Strana” or the Devil’s Stream. The waterway was artificially made to help power watermills. In the northern part of the island sits the Charles Bridge and once you cross over to the island the Lennon Wall, a beautiful park, and an art museum can be found. Right off the shore are The Penguins of Kampa Park. The Penguins also go by the yellow penguins, are part of an art exhibition sponsored by the Museum Kampa, an art museum.
The Penguins of Kamp Park consists of 34 yellow penguins made of plastic bottles that at night, light up the shore. Very little information is given on the process of making the artwork, but it can be assumed that the technique of thermoforming or something similar was involved. Thermoforming is when plastic is heated to make it into a pliable form and then is forced into a mold and heated again. The mold then cools and is ready to use. To adjust the color, finishes, and thickness certain materials would be added, but overall the costs would be very low. This would incentivize the Kampa Museum to get involved.
The Penguins have received much praise and admiration but have also seen some backlash. People see the penguins as an eyesore and not a piece of art. People complain that the penguins do not fit the environment that they sit in and it takes away the natural and historical context of the rest of the area. Overall, the reception has been positive, and tourist and locals alike agree that it is an important discussion topic. Synthetic plastics have been in use for just over 100 years and only recently have some of the plastics from the beginning have started to decompose, but only slightly. Scientists have predicted that most of the plastic we use in our lives will outlive even our grandchildren. Once the plastic is thrown out it usually ends up in a landfill and just sits there or they end up in our waterways and oceans. The use of the plastic to create something beautiful that is simple yet says so much is astounding. The Czech Republic has only recently passed laws the ban free plastic bags and straws in the last year. This piece of art got the discussion going again. Plastic is an everchanging argument with many benefits and consequences, but the Penguins of Kampa Park shows the beauty that can be found in the most unlikely of trash.
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