Paula Crown exposed international audiences to the wasteful, bright red mainstay of frat parties and spring break nights with her “Solo Together” exhibition. In a stroke of cosmic coincidence, the exhibition’s opening almost coincided with the American withdrawal from its international commitment to environmental sustainability. Cultured sat down with Crown to discuss youthful drunkenness, her unique path to artistic success and representing Americana broad. “Solo Together” is on display at 10 Hanover in London until July 16.
How has your traditional art training combined with your unique background (many years of business success) shaped your approach to art making? Both experiences have encouraged my process of iteration and a high level of comfort with continual transformation. In business and in an art studio you have to forge a path for yourself that isn’t about avoiding risks or arriving at one final solution. In my studio, I want to be open to serendipity and the opportunity to view an object or idea from a fresh perspective. I constantly reorganize, reconsider and re-contextualize information and those tendencies allow for many things around me to become catalysts for new work.
The red Solo Cup has been a ubiquitous mass symbol of American celebration for decades. Did a particular experience inspire you to transform it into art? It wasn’t a single experience or memory with a Solo Cup, but more its position in American Culture that piqued my interest. Since the 1970s we have seen this form at gatherings and celebrations. It’s become shorthand for university life in films and television and the materiality is caught between two eras of plastic in the United States. Single-use plastics are of a time of optimism and abundance that valued convenience and mass production. The Solo Cup carries that optimism in its bright red color and its connotation of celebration. It’s also iconic at a time when we are beginning to feel the full weight of our responsibility for excess and waste. These two opposing contexts of the form made me consider a crowd of used cups as a sign of our duality in this moment.
Each cup in the project has its own distinctive form. How did you conceive of all these variations of the red Solo Cup?While I have been thinking of the Solo Cup as a symbol in culture, I also see it as a material conduit for social energy. The pliability and durability of plastic is an interesting record of our actions. When we gather together we hold these in our hands and project our joy or anxiety into them. I wanted all the unique compositions of the installation to reference this indexical mark-making. This prompted me to title each individual cup. By personifying the shapes, the material comes alive and the absence of the body or hand in the final installation becomes foregrounded. Many of the titles reference an interiority instead of the buzz of a crowd. At first, I was finding the rhythm of the forms and then searching for variety. It was sculpting these individual personalities that allowed me to keep them unique.
Your work has featured a clear environmental consciousness. What does the red Solo Cup indicate about the disposability of American culture? My hope is that the work is able to hold many meanings and as it pulls the viewer in it can also prompt questions. The fun that these idiosyncratic forms embody is weighted by the questions that linger in the absence of the party. Who cleans up this mess and where does it go? What did I miss? This simple plastic cup has the potential to point, not only to American excess and waste but also to our anxieties and our increasing lack of connection to our resources and each other.
What opportunities are provided by visually representing a facet of Americana to an international audience? This is an opportunity to look at a loaded symbol through different perspectives and see new meaning. In each context, a different facet of the work is able to take shape. While plastic consumption is a global issue, the character of the red Solo Cup has become synonymous with American pop culture. The personifications and individual titles I have given the cups are still accessible but are less pinned down outside of their own vernacular.
“Solo Together” is on display at 10 Hanover in London until July 16.