Wordle of Blog

Wordle: Art from Plastic Pollution

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