Total Styrene Benefit
Participant Inc.
By Quinn Dukes

Styrofoam and summer heat are typically not linked points of personal interest but The Total Styrene Benefit invitation shifted my bias with promise of performance, a recycling laboratory and homemade lemonade. In 2009, New York-based artist, Lizzie Scott, pioneered the Styrene Fantastic (now referred to as the Total Styrene Experience) in an effort to reposition toxic foam from landfills and into the hands of innovative artists. Curated by Patricia Milder, the foamy affair included performances, two-dimensional works and sculpture.

Upon arrival, a bright, toothy-smiled doorman greeted me at the entrance of Participant Inc., bestowing immediate gratitude for my donation and later offering puzzling instructions about the evening auction. This jovial exchange and the funky-town IPod shuffle undoubtedly set the tone for an eccentric yet heartfelt event.

The walls of the front space were adorned with unframed auction items. The works on paper frequently presented casual means of execution and minimalist design principles. Josh Blackwell’s Plastic Basket, 2010, was one of the few auction items that supported a reformative vision similar to the Total Styrene Manifesto. Plastic Basket, 2010, playfully mocks society’s synthetic obsession while simultaneously referencing indigenous methods of basket weaving.

Lizzie Scott’s off-white muslin and collected foam soft sculptures elude towards a more recent past. The subtle transparency of each sculpture propels the imagination into crafting mythical narratives. Perhaps the foamy, green popcorn contained within the muslin skin once protected a sleek, new computer monitor or a grandmother’s prized antique lamp. Whatever it’s history, Scott’s eerily toxic medium seems to offer an oddly nostalgic embrace. Two female dancers dressed in black, enveloped themselves within this cloud-like embrace by casually lounging around the gallery throughout the beginning of the evening. An air of emotional investment and personal frustration were finally detected once the two performers individually engaged with Scott’s sculpture, Floating Object, 2011. Both of Scott’s dancers (Kyli Kleven and Georgia X. Lifsher) personified a Matador with their bull as they engaged in improvised yet interpretive dances.

Max Steele loudly proclaimed a socially conscious monologue over a Beyonce ballad while changing outfits and indulging hip-popping choreography in Teach Frankenstein to Dance, 2011. Michael Mahalchick confidently portrayed and awkward array of movements during 8 dances in 8 minutes, 2011. Mahalchick’s movements were applicable and appropriate to each musical era. His long hair, sweaty brow and fraudulent grin brought the Total Styrene synthetic focus full circle.

The art world is certainly no stranger to the conflicting nature of Styrofoam. Tara Donovan’s Untitled, 2003, Styrofoam cup installation still travels the museum circuit offering grand and ethereal illusions of escapism. John Chamberlain’s retrospective exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery earlier this year incorporated a site specific, urethane foam couch installation. The compelling triumph of Scott’s approach towards the material is certainly in her collection efforts and grass roots attitude. She offers an essential contemporary voice to an overly lavish art market. Scott envisions the project moving forward with benefit proceeds to procure a temporary space. The temporary stay will foster community involvement via Styrofoam donations and according to Scott, “serve as a laboratory for making art and performance from that Styrofoam.”

To contribute to Scott’s cause, you can visit
Type in Artist Name: Lizzie Scott
Project Name: The Total Styrene Experience

"Plastic Basket" 2010, Yarn and Plastic, 9 x 9 inches, by Josh Blackwell

"Bench" 2009; Styrofoam, muslin, and tulle; 24 x 50 x 36 in. by Lizzie Scott

“Fainting Couch” 2009; Styrofoam, muslin, and tether, 40 x 36 x 34 in. by Lizzie Scott

Georgia X. Lifsher performing my "Styrene Fantastic 4" work in progress performance.

Max Steele performing his piece "Teach Frankenstein to Dance".

Michael Mahalchick performing 8 dances in 8 minutes.

All images are courtesy of Lizzie Scott.