The Plastic Bag Store Is Now Open in Ann Arbor: Here's A Look At How It Came to Be

The Plastic Bag Store Is Now Open in Ann Arbor: Here's A Look At How It Came to Be

Photos by Eric Woodhams

When artist Robin Frohardt visited grocery stores in her twenties in San Francisco, as well as in her current home of New York City, her experience was fairly typical of any American supermarket. Her reaction was anything but.

“I was going to stores where the cashier would double bag, triple bag everything, and my groceries were already in bags inside boxes inside more bags,” Frohardt said recently on stage at the Michigan Theater. “I was like, This is fucking stupid.”

Frohardt turned her frustration into creative energy, creating a meticulously built public art installation and immersive film experience, The Plastic Bag Store, which opens in Ann Arbor for a limited time on January 17th, 2023.

The artist recently spoke about inspirations for her work and process as part of the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series. Her talk, titled “The Magic of the Mundane,” outlined her artistic career: from her beginnings as a college dropout who glued together cardboard sculptures all day and bartended all night, to her success as a playwright and director with the 2013 puppet-led play The Pigeoning, to her passion for “taking a joke too far” and using plastic bags to create increasingly complicated sculptures, including the Dumpster Monster, an inflatable plastic creature who pops out of dumpsters to scare passersby. All of these projects involved reusing plastic, cardboard, and other materials that had been destined for landfills.

In The Plastic Bag Store, Frohardt stocks the room like a typical grocery store, with round, shiny fruits piled in cartons, and boxed cleaning supplies lining the shelves. Frohardt and her team have hand-crafted these objects using nothing but discarded single-use plastics, saved from various packages that she collected from friends and neighbors. (“For a few years, my bedroom was basically a recycling center,” she said.)


Full video of Frohardt’s talk as part of the the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series

Watch on YouTube

Frohardt had originally conceived of the installation as a fake grocery store that unsuspecting people would wander into, thinking it was an actual business. The first The Plastic Bag Store was set to launch in New York City, on a busy corner in Times Square. “It was supposed to open on March 15th, 2020,” Frohardt said, to audible groans from the audience. After one rehearsal, the installation sat closed for several months while COVID-19 raged across the country and Times Square’s pedestrian traffic shrank to almost nothing.

Though the pandemic cast a dark shadow over things, Frohardt found a way to rework the project and use the delayed opening to her advantage. She and her team filmed a short video about a fictional archaeologist from the future, who undertakes a research project after finding various plastic garbage and a CVS receipt that says “Most Valued Customer.” The film is now an integral part of the The Plastic Bag Store experience.

Frohardt’s team often works with other organizations in the name of climate advocacy. “We have worked with local activists, or politicians, or advocacy groups to help amplify some of the work that’s going into changing policy, like instituting plastic bag bans,” she said. “It’s really nice when we can help amplify activists’ messages, because we don’t have the time to do that kind of work, and they don’t have time to build a grocery store.”

But she made a point to clarify that a completely plastic-free lifestyle is not feasible for the vast majority of people, including herself. Though she would encourage people to find use less plastic in their daily lives, she tries not to be militant about it. “I have no interest in policing people’s behavior,” Frohardt said, shrugging. “I don’t like plastic, but I also don’t like cops.”

The Plastic Bag Store opens on January 17th at the 777 Building, at 777 E. Eisenhower Parkway, in Ann Arbor, and closes on February 5th. Timed tickets are available here.

The Plastic Bag Store

Part Installation. Part Film. All Bags.

View Exhibition