Last year funding from the Pebble Trust enabled me to finish and show a body of work entitled LOST in the Bishops Palace at Eden Court. The exhibition visualizes and quantifies the fossil fuel energy held within the plastic marine litter sculptures. I think the collaborative making of the work and the exhibition (now traveling) helps to show how plastic pollution and the use of single use plastics contributes to our climate crisis.
My 5 year journey with this project has shown me Art can attract people’s attention particularly through:
Collaborative making for me is probably the most successful way of engaging people in difficult conversations about climate change, use of energy and how we can change our own pattern of living choices. As an artist, I create happenings/events in outside spaces such as beaches, streets and open-sided buildings. These provide perfect opportunities for engagement through conversation on sustainability issues. Activities such as making and beach cleaning open up a natural way of beginning the slow process of learning about and discussing waste, plastic and fossil fuels. It is a chance to talk about actions we might be taking with recycling, how easy or difficult that can be, the limits of recycling, the potential of reuse and a discussion about reducing consumption.
For example while weaving and weighing the #LitterCUBEs a whole conversation began about what a litre of oil could achieve in some instances. We calculated how far a boat could travel with the equivalent petrol ‘held’ within the sculpture and if we were saving it, how there would still be more fossil fuels left!
Art can open-up conversations and generate lots of questions!
Conversations usually conclude through talking about people’s own sustainability, about saving energy and what kind of energy we use. I have taken part in hundreds of such conversations during this project .
Outside events are fun and rewarding but always need a lot of planning and a great deal of improvising!
Focused exhibition events
These can help to develop and explore issues raised by artworks. LOST had two very different and successful events:
At this event Plastic @ Bay and Greenhive community enterprises shared their knowledge about Recycling Plastic (both marine and terrestrial); single use plastic litter/waste and their vision of a circular Highland economy using recycled materials and resources . We also shared our story about working together to make skipping equipment (handles) from fishing ropes collected in the Highlands. Two years on, after adjusting our mould and casting methods several times, we have concluded that recycling fishing ropes is a very difficult and an extremely energy hungry process. I am keen to share this story about how recycling isn’t always the most sustainable answer to dealing with plastic waste/litter.
Instead we have decided to make our Ocean Jump Rope handles by using plastic tubes commonly found on the beaches. These can be cut to size by hand with a hacksaw, the tube handles can then have hemp rope threaded and knotted through them. This whole process only requires energy through the food we eat!
Many people attending RECYCLE tried out our recycled and repurposed skipping equipment. Engagement was also increased by employing a BSL interpreter, which attracted members of the local deaf community, who told us they are often left out of Climate Change and sustainability conversations.
Event sessions making bioplastic from seaweed was one of the most free-flowing and far reaching public engagement discussion sessions I’ve had on sustainability, which was amazing given the wild wet weather!
The events with schools and comyomunity members was set up as a ‘big seaweed experiment’. Individuals and groups were invited to follow a simple recipe to make a seaweed biopolymer. They had options on which type of seaweed to use , the proportions of ingredients and cooking times. Our seaweed mixes were poured into simple moulds and spread out to make plastic sheets and left to set.
The workshops were messy, but the conversations were amazing about why we use plastics, the amount that gets wasted, washed up, the difficulty of recycling and its energy consumption. We also talked about the potential of bioplastics and the part seaweed could play as an ingredient, how they could be composted much more easily and it would reduce the use of fossil fuels. Sustainability was central to all the conversations taking place. Once again, ‘doing’ slowed things down to allow discussion!
I am convinced that art can make a difference. Sustainability is one of the huge social questions of our time and looking and experiencing the making process allows for relaxed discussions. Artists create work and spaces in which this can happen.
The LOST exhibition is on show at the Summerhall Gallery in Edinburgh until the 15th May, having been part of the Edinburgh Science Festival in April. This is its 3rd location, each time the show is set up to make the most of the venue, the beautiful gallery settings at Eden Court and Summerhall allowing the prints of litter items to seen.
Showing LOST at the ‘Portobello Artwalk’ event last year in an off grid Brick Kiln, which meant visitors had to help illuminate the #LitterCUBES with torches, led to a much more intimate experience with the artwork.
Conversations that arose in this setting were very focused on how much energy we use every day in houses. This led me to calculate how much energy I used inside the kiln over this weekend show using battery power. Happily it was a small amount, just the equivalent of boiling three and a half litres of water in a kettle. This is another great starting point for sustainability issue conversations around our energy consumption.Conversations that arose in this setting were very focused on how much energy we use every day in houses. This led me to calculate how much energy I used inside the kiln over this weekend show using battery power. Happily it was a small amount, just the equivalent of boiling three and a half litres of water in a kettle. This is another great starting point for sustainability issue conversations around our energy consumption.
Get in touch if you have ideas for new venues for the LOST exhibition and sustainability events!