New V&A exhibition examines history and future of plastic

V&A Dundee (Credit: Frame Focus Capture Photography)

PLASTIC has shaped our daily lives like no other material: from packaging to footwear, from household goods to furniture, from cars to architecture.

A symbol of carefree consumerism and revolutionary innovation, plastic has spurred the imagination of designers for decades. Today, the dramatic consequences of the plastic boom have become obvious, and plastic has lost its utopian appeal. Never has it been more important to understand the 150-year history of this contested material, known to be essential yet superfluous, life-saving and life-threatening, seductive yet dangerous.

Plastic: Remaking Our World, at V&A Dundee from 29 October to 5 February 2023 examines the history and the future of this controversial material. From its early origins when it was intended as a sustainable alternative to natural resources, to its meteoric rise in the twentieth century.

Designers have responded to the devastating environmental impact of plastic overproduction with a wave of cutting-edge material experimentation and contemporary design approaches. Examples of these breakthrough innovations are showcased in the future section of the exhibition, where visitors are invited to explore more sustainable uses and alternatives to this now globally ubiquitous material.

Exhibits include rarities from the dawn of the plastic age and objects from the pop era including fashion, architecture, furniture and product design, through to contemporary designs and projects – from efforts to clean up rivers and oceans, to bioplastics made from algae and mycelium.

Plastic: Remaking Our World takes visitors on a three-part journey, beginning with an immersive video installation by Asif Khan Studio, exploring the relationship between plastic and nature. The second part of the exhibition traces the history of plastic from its natural origins through to synthetic material experimentation in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century. It continues with the rise of the petrochemical industry and its impact on the scale of plastic production as well as the concern for the planet that grew towards the end of the twentieth century. Finally, the third section examines multiple contemporary approaches to rethink the future of plastic and to ask, what role can design play in tackling the plastic crisis?

Plastic Lab at V&A Dundee invites visitors to explore the promise and problem of plastic. This free interactive space encourages visitors of all ages to learn, question, challenge, and act on some of the most important issues relating to plastic today. 

Plastic Lab will house Precious Plastic recycling machines and host a dynamic programme of events, including demonstrations from Glasgow-based design studio Still Life for the exhibition opening weekend (Saturday 29 to Sunday 30 October) followed by Edinburgh-based Doba Studios, showing visitors the different ways plastic can be reimagined for future use. Visitors will also encounter a new commission exploring the limitless properties of plastic by artist Sarah Rose.

From identifying the different types of plastic and investigating recycling systems, to exploring innovative new alternatives to plastic, Plastic Lab encourages everyone to learn how plastic has changed our world and what we can do as individuals, and as a society, to tackle the unparalleled rise in plastic production, consumption, and disposal.

Plastic: Remaking Our World at V&A Dundee is free for 18s and under and supported by Zero Waste Scotland.

This is the first international touring exhibition co-produced by V&A Dundee, the Vitra Design Museum and maat, Lisbon, with curators from V&A South Kensington.

Tickets are on sale now at

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