the breadtag project
Illustrator Shani Nottingham collects piles and piles of bread tags in the name of art (and environmentalism).
Shani Nottingham is a NSW-based illustrator and rather obsessive collector of bread tags. In 2018, she made her hoarding habits public, beginning The Breadtag Project to showcase art made from the ubiquitous bits of plastic she found carelessly tossed away on roadsides, in parks and river ways. Shani made a call-out on social media: send your bread tags her way, and she’ll turn them into something wonderful. Since then, Shani's received countless packages of tags from all over Australia. Below, we ask Shani a few questions about why she dreams of coloured plastic.
How did the Breadtag Project begin? I have been making art with bread tags, on and off, for years. One day, I was standing in the shower wondering what made me unique (something my business mentor wanted me to think about), and I thought about what made me happy and what brought others joy.
I realised then it was my bread tag art that struck a chord. I disappeared into a world of bread tags, their history and uses, and saw that they had a story to tell. So, the project began in mid 2018.
What’s the aim of the Breadtag Project? It’s always had a few aims that have changed organically over time. Originally, the idea was to collect as many as I could to make art, and combine this with the information I was learning about them. But the more I learned about single-use plastics and how damaging they are to the environment, the more I realised that I could use the project to draw attention to this problem.
I have also tried to facilitate creativity and mindfulness through the project, as people often send me bread tags with their own art and stories. The responses have been mind-blowing! It’s led to a really supportive community.
How many bread tags have you collected? Many, many thousands! It’s impossible to count.
Tell us about some of the interesting people who bring or send you bread tags. There are so many! One lady wrote to me and told me about how a loved one had passed away. She was deep in grief, unable to rouse herself from bed and face the world. Then she saw my online callout for bread tags, remembered spotting a bunch on the picnic tables at the local park, and decided to get dressed and get them for me. It felt so good that she did it the next day. And then the next, too. She wrote me a note about how it helped her find some purpose to get back into the real world. I cried!
There are families who collect with their kids, too, along with schools who use them to talk about environmental issues. Then there are the photos people send me of ‘feral’ bread tags they find on footpaths, in gardens and national parks.
You’re also collecting global bread tags? There’s a part of the project called the Doomsday Collection. One day, there will hopefully be no more bread tags made from single-use plastic, so I am aiming to collect the world’s most comprehensive collection of tags for an archival purpose. If anyone out there has connections to people around the globe…
What kind of bread tag craft projects have people sent to you? There are so many, I get things in my letterbox almost every day. I’ve received jewellery, artwork done by pre-schoolers, handmade Christmas decorations, a huge banner where the words were made of tags and heaps more things.
What do you do with all the bread tags that you collect? The collection is ongoing and the bulk will be part of art installations and exhibitions, as well as the Doomsday Collection. I also have many tags that I do not need. I donate these ones to a charity that gets the tags recycled and uses the money to buy and donate wheelchairs to those in need.
Where to next for the Breadtag Project? I’ll be pitching a book to publishers. I also have quite a few interviews with other creatives who use bread tags, as well as bizarre and touching stories to do with them.
Apart from that, I am creating an alphabet of images from bread tags, as well as documenting and recording all the tags that are sent to me – just dreaming all things bread tags, really!