Wordle of Blog

Wordle: Art from Plastic Pollution

Friday, June 7, 2013

The GYRE Expedition and Exhibit - Marine Debris as Material and Message

Today the Alaska Sea Life Center in cooperation with others will send an international team of scientists, artists, and educators out on an expedition to explore the impacts of one of the most prolific cultural artifacts of our modern age, plastic pollution. The expedition will study the global problem of marine pollution using the southwest part of Alaska as their laboratory. This expedition was the vision of Howard Ferren and he will serve as the expedition leader. I had the opportunity to meet Howard at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu in March of 2011, and visited him and his wife at their home in Seward, Alaska later in the year. Howard is a dedicated individual who for many months has worked tirelessly to bring forth his vision (read fund) of blending the interpretive talents of artists and scientists to illuminate the problems resulting from marine pollution to a wider public audience. It is through his efforts that a collaboration of organizations and individuals has been built to realize this expedition.  His vision also included a post-expedition Marine Debris Art Exhibit that will be curated and hosted by the co-sponsor, the Anchorage Museum.

A short video that explains the Expedition concept can be viewed here:

The lead scientist for the Expedition will be Carl Safina, of the Blue Ocean Institute. Carl is a wonderful choice as he is both an accomplished scientist and an eloquent artist as his many books on marine conservation issues will attest to. Pam Longobardi an artist that has been featured in this blog will be one of the 4 artists that participates in the expedition phase of the Gyre project. Pam has been working with marine debris for over 20 years now, and her art has been exhibited internationally. Pam is currently one of the 4 finalists for the $50,000 Visual Arts Hudgens Prize.

Here are just a few examples of her marine debris art;

Ghosts of Consumption by Pam Longobardi, 2012, media: found ocean plastic, steel pins, silicone

Pam has been working alongside Howard to put together a diverse group of international artists that will be collecting marine pollution throughout the expedition. The collected items will be catalogued during the expedition and many of these items will be presented in the Exhibition phase of the project. In addition to the 4 artists taking part in the expedition an additional 16 artists have been invited to contribute to the exhibition which will be exhibited at the Anchorage Museum on February through September 2014. After this initial showing the GYRE exhibit will be repackaged for traveling by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services and will tour museums across the United States.

The photographer for the expedition is Kip Evans. Kip has been working in the marine conservation field for over 20 years. Since 2008 he has worked with Dr. Sylvia Earle serving as director of photography and expeditions for her Mission Blue Hope Spots part of the Sylvia Earle Alliance.

R/V Norseman
The GYRE expedition will be conducted aboard the R/V Norseman. The R/V Norseman is a 108-ft. well appointed ship that has been recently (2005) converted to a full research and exploration platform. The GYRE team should be able to fully explore the southwest Alaska coastline where they will observe, document, and collect shoreline marine pollution.

I hope that you will follow this expedition as it explores the Kenai Peninsula and beyond, here the expedition members will bear witness to the enormity of the global problem of plastic waste that plagues our oceans.

GYRE Website
The Anchorage Museum
The Alaska SeaLife Center
Marine Debris Overview – Blue Ocean Institute
GYRE – Marine Debris Fact Sheet

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Andrew McNaughton - Marine Debris Artist Extraordinaire - Watamu, Kenya

Andrew McNaughton and I met in a small grocery store in Watamu, Kenya in 2002 and have been great friends ever since. Andrew is a gifted artist and over the years I have been consistently amazed by the inspired art that Andrew creates. His art is made from flip-flops and other marine debris collected from the beaches of Watamu. Andrew's house is located right on the beach and his many hours spent walking the beach and seeing all the plastic pollution that washed ashore with each tide is what initially inspired him to try and find some creative use for it. Watamu is on the coast of Kenya and about 50 miles north of its second largest city, Mombasa. Mombasa is also home to some large flip-flop manufacturers, with over 20 million pairs of flip-flops being produced each year. This in part accounts for the large percentage of flip-flops that Andrew continues to find on the beaches in his community.
Andrew with another of his creations

Andrew is not alone in his efforts to collect the marine debris that is washing ashore on the beaches of Watamu. As his art work has gained in notice, and the problems of marine pollution have become better appreciated by local people, businesses, hotels and environmental groups, Andrew has become an ambassador for the Watamu Marine Association's Community Waste Collection and Recycling Project. The Watamu Marine Association (WMA) is an organization developed with the mission of promoting community development and empowerment, while at the same time advocating for the protection and preservation of Watamu's marine ecosystems.  Andrew and the WMA partner to both help clean and preserve the beaches of Watamu (a sea turtle nesting beach and popular tourist destination) and at the same time provide the raw materials for his continued creations. The WMA assists in employing women and disadvantaged young people in the regular collection of beach and village garbage. These same groups then sort and separate the marine pollution collected resulting in recycling of this gathered "trash." Items like flips-flops will be further sorted and set aside to be used by Andrew.
Sorting the beach collected "raw" materials for use

Additionally Andrew also partners with other WMA members from a local artisan co-op helping to train individuals to make additional items from the flip-flops that can be sold in the tourist markets. This collaboration has led to a local economy being generated around the collection and repurposing of marine pollution.

Andrew presenting Jack Johnson with a marine debris "Guitar"
I have worked with Andrew over the last few years to include him in some marine debris art exhibits featuring a collection of international artists that use their creativity to interpret the environmental problems of plastic marine pollution to the general public. At one exhibit in Hawaii he was able to present musician Jack Johnson one of his marine debris "guitars." Below are more images of the wonderful creative works Andrew has created. Currently some of his pieces can be seen in person at exhibits in Kenya and also in Oahu, Hawaii at MuuMuu Heaven.


Toothbrushes collected from the Watamu Beach

Close up of the above
"Guitar-Fish" beach collected driftwood inlaid with flip-flop
Furniture from Driftwood inlaid with Flip-Flop
Large Flip-Flop Outdoor Globes

"King Simba Malapa" - Lion commissioned by Born Free Foundation Predator Project

Students Learning from Andrew
Andrews work continues to inspire me and all those that view it. He will be part of a Marine Environmental Art Exhibit at the Boston Sea Rovers (one of the oldest American Dive Clubs) annual conference this 10-11 March. Andrew also continues to partner with the WMA and recently inspired students with his art and commitment to marine conservation in a workshop held at his studio for the students of the International School of Kenya. We are hoping to have him return to the US in 2013 to hold an independent Art Exhibit in Hawaii.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Susan Middleton - Portraits of Rare and Endangered Wildlife

Susan Middleton © 2004
This Pacific golden plover, kolea in Hawaiian, was found dead on Midway Atoll after an obviously painful and unsuccessful struggle to free itself from the stranglehold of a red plastic ring caught between its beak and around its neck.  Kolea wintering in the NWHI are safe from predators, but not from the perils of plastic debris littering their feeding grounds.  
Susan Middleton will be another one of the artists exhibiting work at the The Sixth Gyre: Art, Oceans, & Plastic Pollution art exhibit at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference next week in Honolulu, Hawaii. Susan has a long history of exploring the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, more recently leading photography focused Natural History tours to Midway Atoll with Oceanic Society. We are lucky enough to have her striking photographs as part of the group exhibit. Included will be the Pacific Golden Plover image above, that has never been on public display. The images are part of a series of photographs she took in collaboration with another 5IMDC exhibit artist, David Liittschwager. Together the images they produced were part of an assignment for National Geographic that resulted in the wonderful book Archipelago.
David Liittschwager © 2004 Photo 1 (see description)
Susan Middleton © 2004 Photo 2 (see description
The photos pictured to the left are from a series Susan and David shot of an albatross chick they got to know while staying on Kure Atoll, eventually naming the chick "Shed Bird," you can watch a video about the development of this relationship with the chick as told by Susan and David at National Geographic. Photo 1 shows the necropsy of shed bird discovered dead one morning.  The feathers were separated and the chest cavity was sliced open, exposing a huge, lumpy proventriculus (stomach) that was perforated. Then the proventriculus was cut open, exposing plastic—a sharp rectangular piece causing one of the perforations, two disposable cigarette lighters, several bottle caps, an aerosol pump top, a piece of a shotgun shell, broken clothespins, toys, and more. In total, Shed Bird’s proventriculus was stuffed with 12.2 ounces of plastic and other indigestible material, which led to malnutrition, dehydration, and eventually death.  Photo 2 shows the complete contents of Shed Bird’s stomach arranged on a sheet of white plastic, so that everything can be clearly seen.  Albatross chicks eat what their parents feed them, plastic included. Albatrosses feed on the surface of the water, they do not dive for their food.  For tens of thousands of years, albatrosses have foraged where ocean currents come together, feeding on flying fish eggs attached to pieces of floating pumice and driftwood, as well as squid which are driven to the surface by sharks and other large predators.  Only in the last 50 years has plastic also accumulated along these same currents convergence zones.  These currents bring in a variety of plastics including: pieces of shotgun shells, paintbrushes, pump spray nozzles, toothpaste tube caps, clothespins, buckles, toys, just to name a few.

It will be great to have Susan's personal exploration of this topic on display at the exhibit. She will also be attending the conference, occasionally available at the Exhibit to talk to individuals that come to see this collection of similarly focused art. Susan's most recent book is called Evidence of Evolution (Abrams 2009). She has also written the following introduction to her work exhibited in the conference, detailing how she was drawn to the environmental topic of marine pollution: 

"My work has focused on the portraiture of rare and endangered wildlife for over twenty five years. I have tried to help give these creatures a voice since they cannot speak for themselves. I began in California, then expanded to the continental United States, then Hawaii, the endangered species capital of the world. Most recently I have worked in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the most remote part of the most remote archipelago in the world. Here I witnessed the most pristine and intact ecosystems I had ever experienced, and I began making portraits of life beneath the waves, exploring the marine environment. I was in one of the most remote places on the planet; this was a place where wildlife reigned, it was not just a novelty. It belonged to the wildlife, and I felt like I was in someone else’s home. And what did I discover? An incomprehensible amount of marine pollution, debris washed up on the beaches on all the islands, and then, even more disturbing, evidence of plastic pollution infecting the digestive systems of seabirds. Lesson learned? Nowhere is remote now. Nowhere is separated and immune from the impacts of human actions. I could not look away, and felt compelled to visually convey what I witnessed through my photographs."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pam Longobardi - The Drifters Project

Macro of Wall Display © 2009 Wayne Sentman
I was fortunate to have been introduced to Pam Longobardi through friends who were working on conservation projects in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands now the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Pam and I started working on a  grant proposal for NOAA geared towards increasing grassroots beach clean-ups efforts in the main Hawaiian islands and on Midway Atoll with production of interpretive art projects. It was hoped that these art projects would both attract more segments of the communities to participate in beach clean up efforts and at the same time serve as focal points to educate the public about the impacts of marine pollution. While were we not successful in this first effort it formed the groundwork for our continued collaboration and association with a larger group of professional artists that were also exploring the theme of marine pollution through art. Pam has been doing this for quite sometime now. In the 2000's Pam started a project that she calls "The Drifters Project." Pam describes that project as "My current project Drifters focuses on the global issue of marine debris and plastics in the ocean. I have been working on installations and public artworks that address the interconnectedness of the land and sea, between humans and the ocean biosphere. My work has a strong environmental focus that has come to the foreground as awareness of climate change, extinction and human impact has become more urgent. The Drifters works include sculptural wall and floor installations and site photography to contextualize the origin of the object materials. I collected the material in these works as it washed in from the Pacific Basin onto the South Point of Hawaii, the southernmost part of the United States. The currents transport and mix the debris into a colony of drifters that temporarily alight and gather on the beaches awaiting the next hurricane, tidal shift or big swell. I was both amazed and shocked by the visual impact of the astonishing array of marine debris I encountered.
South Point, Hawaii © 2007 Pam Longobardi

The ocean functions symbolically as the unconscious of the world. It is the great ‘formless.’ The regurgitating ocean now spews forth all manner of plastic materiality. I believe this artwork can function to raise awareness and transform behavior, while providing a provocative visual delight."

Pam has been selected to show her "Drifters" art at a variety of International locations including in Beijing at NY ARTS/Beijing during the 2008 Olympics and at ARTLIFEfortheworld in Venice for the 2009 Venice Biennale ARTE VISIVI collateral exhibitions. And more recently  She has a book published by Edizione CHARTA (Milan, NY) called  Drifters: Plastics, Pollution and Personhood.
Click on link to purchase

 Carl Safina (a prominent ecologist and marine conservationist, and president of  Blue Ocean Institute) who writes the Forward for the book says: "Longobardi's work is no mere attempt at creating pretty decoration from found objects. Her work is witness, and in it we share. She gives us a wakeup call, a call to action, a call for change. Her work is art. And the work that art must do is to steer our attention into the path of the oncoming truth. As you’re about to see." 

Pam is currently a professor of Art at Georgia State University. She and I worked together this last 8 months, organizing an officially sponsored marine debris art exhibit for the 5th International Marine Debris Conference taking place on the 20 - 25 March, in Honolulu, Hawaii. This conference is a combined effort of NOAA and the United Nations Environmental Programme. It will bring together members of Federal, International and non-profit organizations, as well as scientists, media, and concerned citizens from around the world to investigate the problems we all face related to marine pollution and its increasing accumulation in the worlds oceans. Pam's art will be featured in the conference exhibit entitled  "The Sixth Gyre: Art, Oceans, and Plastic Pollution" this exhibit will be located at the Waikiki Beach Marriott in the Oahu Room and is open to the public during the week on the conference. In addition Pam will also be joined by Susan Middleton, Andrew McNaughton, and myself at an Ocean Conservancy Art & Wine Reception where we will all briefly talk about the role of art in interpreting environmental issues. The three artists will also have more of their art on display for the 300 to 400 conference attendees at the reception.
"Shipwreck (Unintended Consequences,)"
Found marine debris, wire mesh, silicone
Installed in Panthalassa, Artlife Gallery, Venice, Italy

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Midway Atoll - Plastic Pollution Inspires Art

Photographed by Wayne Sentman © 2001
On Midway Atoll, a remote National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific, the effects of plastic marine pollution are quite evident. For many years, albatross chicks decaying carcasses have filled viewers with a sense of "culpable ignorance." Seeing these  decayed bodies laden with plastic where their stomachs would be, reminds us that we are connected to the natural world. That plastic toothbrush that we threw out, those bottle caps that we walk past on the street, and the multitude of plastic that we have not recycled, ends up where we least expect it. As this picture taken on Midway in 2001 demonstrates, our culpable ignorance about what happens to this plastic after we "throw it out" is forever shattered as we peer into the dead albatross and see all those items and more. A plastic fossil that we can not ignore.

Shed Bird on Necropsy © 2004 David Liittschwager

Susan Middleton and David Liittschwager's images and chronicle of "Shed Bird" a Laysan albatross chick they encountered while visiting Kure Atoll in 2004 (watch video link to hear the story as told by the photographers) have found a wide audience. The images were released at a time when the general public was (an is) becoming more aware of the plastic debris "gyres" in the world's oceans. Recent travels of Chris Jordan and his team to Midway Atoll bringing a modern telling of the story of Midway's albatross populations and the perils individual albatross face from marine plastics and human consumerism. The albatross at Midway are a harbinger of the amount of plastic in the ocean since they happen to feed along one of the largest concentrations of marine debris in the north Pacific. US Fish & Wildlife researchers have estimated that each year at least 5 tons of plastic marine debris is brought to (landfilled) Midway Atoll by albatross regurgitating to their young.

Marine Debris on emergent reef at Midway
Laysan Albatross sitting in Marine Debris © Wayne Sentman
Marine debris also effects other animals at Midway Atoll. Corals are killed by large conglomerations of discarded or lost fishing nets, referred to as Ghost nets. Ghost nets wash over the emergent reef at Midway and become entangled in coral heads, ultimately rubbing against the fragile coral animals until they die. These ghost nets once tangled in corals in shallow lagoon waters also become hazards to animals like sea turtles and juvenile monk seals. See this video for a dramatic view of this hazard to monk seals filmed by a BBC Natural History Unit crew visiting Kure Atoll in 1999. Nets on the beach also can entangle monk seals, sea turtles, albatross and other seabirds on land as well.

Having lived for 4 years on Midway Atoll and bearing witness to plastic pollution since 1998, and now returning with ecotourism groups since 2008 this blog was conceived to showcase the role creative artists are playing in both interpreting this ecological challenge to the public and helping to inspire creative solutions to what at times seems like an unsolvable problem. Along the way the problems of marine debris throughout the worlds oceans will be brought in focus. In my travels to various coastal and island communities plastic pollution is a ubiquitous problem, and one that seems to be increasing in scope each year. Science will still be how we define the problem and how we decide what is needed to direct management and behavior changes that will impact the volume of plastic pollution ending up in our oceans and food webs. However, I believe that it will be through inspired personal stories, related through art and field based learning opportunities that will serve to engage entire communities to remember that they are connected to the natural world, both right outside their door and miles away in the middle of the worlds oceans. This connection is needed to remind us that we are part of nature and thus fully invested in its welfare.
Eastern Island, Midway Atoll - © 2010 Wayne Sentman