I am obsessed with plastic objects. I harvest them from the ocean for the stories they hold and to mitigate their ability to harm. Each object has the potential to be a message from the sea – a poem, a cipher, a metaphor, a warning.
My work collecting and photographing ocean plastic and turning it into art began with an epiphany in 2005, on a far-flung beach at the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. At the edge of a black lava beach pounded by surf, I encountered multitudes upon multitudes of plastic objects that the angry ocean was vomiting onto the rocky shore.
I could see that somehow, impossibly, humans had permeated the ocean with plastic waste. Its alien presence was so enormous that it had reached this most isolated point of land in the immense Pacific Ocean. I felt I was witness to an unspeakable crime against nature, and needed to document it and bring back evidence.
I began cleaning the beach, hauling away weathered and misshapen plastic debris – known and unknown objects, hidden parts of a world of things I had never seen before, and enormous whalelike colored entanglements of nets and ropes.
I returned to that site again and again, gathering material evidence to study its volume and how it had been deposited, trying to understand the immensity it represented. In 2006, I formed the Drifters Project, a collaborative global entity to highlight these vagrant, translocational plastics and recruit others to investigate and mitigate ocean plastics’ impact.
My new book, “Ocean Gleaning,” tracks 17 years of my art and research around the world through the Drifters Project. It reveals specimens of striking artifacts harvested from the sea – objects that once were utilitarian, but have been changed by their oceanic voyages and come back as messages from the ocean…
Gyre: Creating Art From a Plastic Ocean | National Geographic (08-21-2013)
In this full-length web exclusive, National Geographic journeys along the remote Alaskan coast … in search of garbage. A team of scientists and artists investigates the buildup of marine debris washing out of the great gyres, or currents, in the Pacific Ocean. Called the Gyre Expedition, their goal is to create art from the trash they find to raise awareness about its impact on oceans and wildlife. Their artwork (became) part of a traveling exhibition in 2014.