Concept photographer Benjamin Von Wong’s latest creation sees the Canadian artist shine a light on the damaging nature of straws, in his new project the Strawpocalypse, which represents “the parting of the plastic sea”
The photographer and a team of volunteers banded together to create an incredible structure using 168,000 recycled straws. They did the final photo shoot in the middle of Estella Place shopping centre in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. The result is some stunning photographs that the creator hopes will raise awareness of the single-use plastic problem in Vietnam and around the world. Southeast Asia Globe speaks with Von Wong about the making of the installation and his thoughts on the environment and plastic waste.
What was it in particular about this project that inspired you to get involved?
I’m always looking for opportunities to create. It’s less about the cause – I care about a lot of things – [and] more about… whether or not I can help. If I have the ingredients necessary to create something epic, I’m generally more than happy to tackle it.
How do you see the role of art in raising awareness of global issues like waste and single-use plastics?
Art has the power to touch people on an emotional level that statistics and facts just don’t have. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to quantify that impact – but the feedback I’ve received has encouraged me to keep going.
Tell me about your time in Ho Chi Minh City. How apparent is its plastic problem?
Single-use plastic is a part of people’s everyday lives here – a straw inside of a plastic cup with a plastic lid in a plastic bag is one of the most common things you’ll see. There seems to still be the misconception here that if you throw something out, it’ll just “go away”. This isn’t a Vietnamese problem though – in many ways it’s a foreign technology that [foreigners] never bothered designing a proper end-of-life strategy for.
Your project caught the attention of Starbucks – how important is it that big companies get involved in projects like this?
I believe that it’s super important to work together with corporations that are genuinely trying their best to do the right thing. They have the power to move the needle with really small policy changes, and I want to show that people genuinely care about these issues and support the guys trying to do the right thing. I think this kind of positive encouragement can have a domino effect on smaller companies and corporations.
What has been the most challenging part of this project?
Hard to say, honestly. Every chapter is hard: from concept to pitch, pitch to execution, execution to press… and now the challenge of getting press just continues. I don’t think it ever really stops!
You have done projects in Vietnam and Cambodia and a TEDx Talk in Malaysia. What attracts you to Southeast Asia? Do you think that art has a role to play in this region?
I just keep getting the opportunity to create here! I personally love the culture of hard-working, humble individuals, and there’s just this spirit of being able to do anything without all the red tape that you would typically need in a North American country.
In many ways, I also think there’s a hunger for this type of content that’s larger than life and that stands out. I hope that I have the opportunity to come back more often!
It seems like you always wear the same clothes. I envy how simple your mornings must be when selecting your outfit. Do you ever wear anything else?
I have a couple pyjamas and extra layers of sweaters I travel with, but for the most part… yep – I wear the same thing every day. Better for the environment and less decision making needed!
What is your message to those who regularly use single-use plastic straws?
I think that it’s important to remember that the straw people use for just minutes will last longer than their lifetime, into their children and grandchildren’s lifetime. And while it may just seem like a small thing, all of that adds up into a really big problem. It’s not just about the straw; it’s about using the straw as a reminder to be more conscious of our consumption habits.