Medium: Red plastic cups, hot glue
Size: approx. 10’x10’x10'
For my senior show, I am creating a large-scale installation of a Catholic Church altar, made of red plastic cups stacked and glued together. The altar is large, standing ten feet tall and matching the height in width, intimidating the viewer. The piece uses patterns with the cups (cups laid upside down, stacked, inside showing, etc) to separate the forms of the altar (three stairs, three arches). The installation is immediately in front of the viewer as they enter the gallery, and is enclosed by three walls. Cups covering the floor enclose the space so only one viewer at a time may enter. Lighting on the installation is directly in front of the piece, reflecting red cup shine on the walls and viewer. The installation looms over the viewer as they walk into the space, creating an environment in which the viewer can experience the piece both visually and physically.
The installation reflects the parallel between church ritual and drinking ritual, both being timeless traditional actions that give identity to many cultures and spaces. By creating a large altar out of red plastic cups, I am making a connection between the college culture of drinking, the ritual associated with it, and religious institutions. Studies on drinking have shown that the social consumption of alcohol is a ritualized act in most cultures, whether it be drinking out of an animal horn or out of a plastic cup. College culture today (especially in America) utilizes the red cup exclusively for drinking games such as beer pong and flip cup, again lending emphasis on the importance of the drinking vessel in ritual consumption of alcohol. These games create patterns with cups filled with beer, and my installation/altar will contain many of the pyramid-like patterns found regularly in beer pong to emphasize that American culture has ritualized drinking to create a unique (yet sometimes overwhelming) social experience that parallels church experiences. My hope is that viewers examine their drinking and religious experiences and are able to have some sort of sublime experience in front of my altar as they see the connections between both rituals.
My installation is extremely relevant to the college community due to its use of the red plastic cup as medium. However, any consumer of alcohol should be able to recognize the red cup as the popular drinking vessel it has become since its birth in the 1970s. In creating this piece, I was inspired by Tara Donovan, who uses plastic or styrofoam cups to create organic landscapes, as well as Zhu Jinshi, who utilized rice paper to create a large tunnel for viewers to walk through. The conversation between medium and form is important to my practice. I believe that my piece will connect to college students and other American spectators similarly to how Andy Warhol’s soup cans connected to American consumers. We recognize a product and proceed to investigate its meaning in an alternate context. Many students and other participants of American party culture see the red plastic cup as the great equalizer that brings together people of all social standings, the drinking vessel which signifies we are having a shared experience. By making an altar out of plastic cups, I am making a statement connecting and comparing the ritual of drinking to the ritualistic aspects of religion. I expect that many people will be able to make these connections as the medium is contemporary and relevant to this time.