Sunday, May 24, 2020

'Last to Sea' # 8 : Awash in a Sea of Plastic

Work continues on this year's contribution to the Elora Sculpture Project : 'Last to Sea'
Overall installation rough
A group of ocean creatures are confined within the circle of a plastic fishing net, ‘drowned’ by clear plastic water bottles. Can they be more than glimpsed through that mass of human waste?
One of the things that strongly influenced the whole concept behind 'Last to Sea' was watching the documentary 'Ocean Blue' which centres around oceanographer (and pioneer) Silvia Earle. As the film traces over a lifetime of exploration and discoveries, it also illustrates many returns to those significant locations. The comparison between then (1960's) and now are absolutely shocking.

Through this all, runs the heavy hand of human impact.

If not forever, humans have used the ocean as if an endless resource - and as a garbage dump. Foul harbours or rivers at cities have been a known result for centuries now. 'Out of sight - out of mind' attitudes have shaped human practices towards our own waste and the seas. This perhaps could be accepted in early history, when almost all of that waste was at least organic, and overall there were not that many of us.

Over the last 100 years, the two barrels in the pollution shot gun have been exploding human populations and the massive increase in artificial materials - the plastics. Plastics will last centuries in the environment.
The accumulation of 'Microplastics' has been a contamination element of major concern over the last decade especially. Those floating water bottles may be breaking apart and out of sight - but the pieces still clog the waters.

Adding disposable plastic to the upper frame
I chose to use three main representations of plastic waste to 'Last to Sea'.
The choice was primarily based on my own practical availability of single use plastic. - I had a large number of clear disposable water bottles left over from the construction of 'Legacy' my contribution to the 2018 Elora Sculpture Project.
- Fruit juices we purchase are split evenly between frozen concentrates (packed in combination metal and cardboard) and those in larger plastic bottles. Over the two months constructing 'Last to Sea' I collected only three of these.
- Our personal economic situation dictates the purchase of a lot of 'day old' foods, typically vegetables. These all come packed on Styrofoam trays.
- Some small tools and sundries purchased for the Wareham Forge come inside plastic 'blister packs'. Annoying as I personally find these, they are almost impossible to avoid.
The selection of largely clear plastics was intentional, to permit light down over the sculptural elements underneath.
Water bottles certainly were the largest type. For Elora, with the ongoing controversy over industrial water extraction and bottling, this provides another 'topical' component.

The last major example of ocean plastics was the use of a fishing net to frame and contain the overall installation. This was part of a section of green nylon net from the commercial fishery I picked up beach combing on my last trip to Newfoundland (in 2017). Although found cast off along the shore, the section of net I found was brand new, roughly 15 feet wide by a piece about 20 feet long.
Used for a method called 'drift netting', historically these nets were mainly made of hemp (so degraded in the environment) and had larger mesh sizes that allowed smaller species / immature fish to pass through. Starting in the 1950's however, synthetic materials became the standard, and mesh sizes decreased (ie - smaller fish caught) ( 1 ).  As boats became larger, drift netting increasingly became the most 'profitable' commercial method.
Leaving aside the whole (massive) problem of 'by-catch', the new nylon nets, themselves almost indestructible, become a major environmental hazard when sections break free. In use designed to float near the surface, these 'ghost nets', trap and kill both fish and marine mammals. ( 2 )

Close up of final installation - showing the surrounding net

Last Commentary : Final Installation

( 1 ) Most will remember the 'Turbot War' between Spain and Canada in 1995.
Although primarily framed as a fight over territorial waters, use by European ships of small sized nets (harvesting under-aged fish) was an additional part of the dispute.

( 2 ) None of this is in any way intended to be a direct criticism of the people I know from Northern Newfoundland who are involved in the Fishery. Truthfully, none of those people do more than take limited, seasonal, deck work - on large (and massively expensive) boats owned by others - or increasingly major corporations. People I know personally most certainly have no control what so ever over current fisheries methods.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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