Go inside ‘The Plastic Bag Store,’ Austin’s immersive visual art space

“The Plastic Bag Store” is the most delightfully outlandish art that you will see in Austin this year. Or most any year.

Robin Frohardt’s immersive live and filmed show — embedded inside an ingenious walk-through art experience — comes with a serious subject: plastic pollution.

Yet Frohardt’s light touch keeps it from ever becoming dull or preachy.

“I use humor as a coping mechanism for problems that are overwhelming, terrifying,” Frohardt says. “Nobody wants to hear me rattle off statistics. Statistics do not make good theater.”

See photos:Fran Lebowitz at Paramount Theatre in Austin

One enters Blue Genie’s high-ceilinged studio and event space off Airport Boulevard to find a pop-up retail outlet the size of a convenience store. Yet its departments and graphics are meant to mirror those in a more complete, old-fashioned grocery store with produce, meat, seafood, deli and frozen food sections.

Everything is made of plastic bags.

Some of the items appear impressively realistic, while others are whimsically satirical. Bags, boxes and bottles of snacks, drinks and cereal, for instance, are given brand names such as “Yucky Shards” and “Shredded Waste.”

For 15 minutes or so, 50 guests mingle in this store and take numerous pictures. That could have been enough entertainment, but then the gondolas and shelves are folded and rolled away. The show begins.

The puppet work in "The Plastic Bag Store" was filmed during the pandemic.

It is broken into six parts.

1. A shadow puppet film set in ancient times that purports to explain black-on-red paintings on Greek vases by telling the tale of an entrepreneurial young man who invents single-use disposable vases for “Knowledge Water.” It becomes all the rage. He imports foreign water with bubbles. Then the discarded vases stack up outside town, then in the sea, where they endanger marine life.

Anita Shire

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