Plastic Identification Tool
White terrarium, Couzijn van Leeuwen, 2013
Collection Centraal Museum Utrecht
Sculpture, Sculpture, 101 x 101 x 40,5 cm (h x w x d)

Polystyrene foam, partly melted with hair dryer; cardboard; white film; papier-mâché; iron wire; wooden slats; staples; glue; sealant; white paint

The artwork ‘White Terrarium’ provides a view into a curious white landscape with plants, flowers, birds, and unusual fruit, surrounded by an open, white frame.

Upon making, van Leeuwen experimented with shaping and deforming polystyrene foam with hot air from a hair dryer. In the open places, left by the melted plastic, he placed fruit, flowers, plants and birds, made of polystyrene foam, paper and thin, white plastic film. The flowers and birds are held in place with white painted metal wire. By displaying the work at eye-level on a plinth, everything can be seen in detail.

White foam: Expanded Polystyrene (expanded PS, EPS)
Bird’s wings: Kapaline foam board, Hard Polyurethane (PUR hard)

Flower/bird: Polyethylene (PE)
Petal: Polypropylene (PP)

String: Polypropylene (PP)

Couzijn van Leeuwen (Hoevelaken, 1959) often uses cardboard in his works and calls himself the ‘master of cardboard and other upcycled materials’. He loves material that can be used directly; uncomplicated and light, that can be worked and processed with simple tools such as a Stanley knife and a stapler.

The artwork was acquisitioned in good condition in 2014. During permanent exhibition some damage was observed in 2015. It had also become clear that, due to the open structure, the surface of the many white parts were vulnerable for dust and soiling. Subsequently, the work was restored and cleaned. The question remains which of the plastics in White Terrarium will age, yellow, and degrade first and ultimately change the artwork: film, foam, or something else such as glue or sealant.

Exhibition and Storage
The object is kept in a shelving rack, covered with Tyvek as protection against dust and dirt.

During exhibition the artwork is placed on a plinth with the same width and depth as ‘Terrarium’ to allow the public to view the landscape close up. Van Leeuwen prefers not to display the work with a cover or in a glass case. He considers that as a visual infringement on the fragile, light-weight character of the work. Deposition of dirt and dust on the white material and visitors touching and damaging the object are risks that are factored in for exhibition.

Polyethylene (PE)
Polypropylene (PP)
Expanded Polystyrene (PS, EPS expanded)
Hard Polyurethane (PUR hard)

As the work consists largely of polystyrene foam the recommendations for expanded polystyrene (EPS) can best be followed. Click on the plastics for their specific recommendations.