What is an archetypical form of life that has existed for eons without changing? Pondering this question, Tony Cragg learned of a freshwater algae known as “Spyrogyra” that evolved around eight hundred million years ago and still exists today. The artist has commented that “they are proficient at survival,” and the spirals in this work resemble the chloroplasts inside the cells of these organisms. Cragg permits different configurations in the arrangement of these glass bottles when they are on display. However, each combination changes the locations where bottles are and are not attached. In a way, this situation expresses the progression of life. Visitors that would like to know more about the context of this work should look into Bottle Rack by the artist Marcel Duchamp.
This small, modest work is made from discarded plastic bottles collected by Cragg from the banks of the river Rhine and the streets near his home in a northwest German town. However, this is not merely a disorderly arrangement of bottles that were consumed by society, abandoned, and then placed on a shelf. Looking more closely we can see that the bottles are ordered from the viewer’s left to right according to color: yellow, orange, red, blue, and green. There is also a transformation of form from a vessel shape, to a bird, to that of a person. This visual humor hints at the history of mankind’s evolutionary progression as we have wandered through existence. This work is a clear example of how Cragg uses commonplace materials from ordinary life to give expression to his views on the state of modern society and new things.