In the 20th century, plastic was a wonder material that seemed like it would usher humanity into a bright new future. It was the star of every fascinating new product, the main component of every space-age home. Today, it has become an environmental villain, contaminating the entire world through thoughtless overuse. But what if we could look at plastic in a different light — literally? Japanese artist Nina Nomura reminds us that plastic’s main virtue is still its…well…plasticity. She transforms plastic objects by burning holes into them to create entirely new textures and light-filtering qualities.

Perforated home furnishings featured in Nina Nomura's

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Nomura’s latest exhibition, “Life Through Holes,” showcases her unusual artistic method at Hibiya OKUROJI for the 2022 edition of DESIGNART Tokyo. Consisting of a refrigerator, a dining table with four chairs, and an assortment of associated objects, the works obscure the seemingly rigid and artificial qualities of plastic, calling to mind sea creatures, spiderwebs, and other creations of nature. We often think of plastic as a manmade material that’s somehow separate from every other material on Earth, as if it crash-landed here from outer space. But Nomura’s works aim to remind us that it has the same origins as any other material we consider more desirable.

Every detail of Nina Nomura's

View inside the perforated plastic fridge featured in artist Nina Nomura's

“I was fascinated by the way plastic products that seemed to be inorganic were given a new sense of life by harboring cells of light,” says Nomura. “Petroleum, the raw material of plastic, was born from ancient plankton carcasses under the heat and pressure of the Earth over many years. The act of making a hole is to reveal the origin of this material and reproduce it as a mental landscape.”

A closer look at the perforated plastic pieces comprising Nina Nomura's

“Although the material called plastic is considered to be a disgusting material in terms of environmental problems, the brilliance of these cells of light illuminates the value hidden in our modern lives. What is the true value of materials and where is the true richness of the relationship between things and people in the present age where things are overflowing? As if to keep asking myself that question, I can’t help but keep drilling holes today.”

To create these objects, Nomura works with a soldering iron and an air filter mask, transforming ordinary objects like appliances and household furniture. Everything from disposable utensils to yogurt cups seem like entirely new objects once she’s done with them.

Perforated plastic utensils dangle from mid-air as part of Nina Nomura's

“Life Through Holes” doesn’t change the fact that plastic breaks down into tiny particles that end up in the furthest reaches of our planet, from our own digestive systems to those of creatures lurking in the deepest, darkest corners of the oceans. But it does prompt us to ponder whether we could change how we use this material, and thus, its impact. Are there potential reuses we just haven’t thought of yet? Could the new plastic-digesting bacteria currently under development help plastic re-enter a more natural life cycle?

Perforated plastic table and chairs featured in Nina Nomura's

Nina Nomura was born in Tokyo in 1993 and graduated from the Space Design Program at the Kuwasawa Design School in 2021. She received the MIKIKO award at SICF22 Spiral Aoyama that same year. You can follow her work on her website and on Instagram @_ninanomura.