Art for the Environment Exhibition at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

When devastating fires engulfed Northern California several weeks ago, my kids’ school shut down due to heavy smoke. Our family decided to escape the Bay Area for the day. We headed south, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where smoke maps promised better air. As it turned out, the air was just as hazy in Monterey, but the aquarium was as lovely as ever. As we made our way through the exhibits, I stumbled upon an unexpected surprise: the Art for the Environment exhibition.

This upcycled art exhibit displayed works by international artists who, like myself, are concerned with the growing waste created by humanity. These artists, too, use discarded items to create their art, and, like me, believe that art can inspire change in attitudes as well as behaviors. But whereas I use upcycled textiles to create my work, these artists use plastic waste. Their work concentrates around the topic of marine life and the health of the oceans.

A Virtual Tour of the Art for the Environment Exhibition

Alison McDonald‘s “Message in a Bottle” examines the negative and positive influences plastics have on the natural world. The empty spaces she created symbolize the negative effects. The emerging plastic kelp symbolize hope for the oceans.

The Turkish artist Gulnur Ozdaglar believes that the solution to plastic waste is not recycling but rather upcycling. She creates enchanting objects out of plastic waste. Her “Jelly PET Bowls” seem to float through the air the way jelly fish appear to float in water.

See the beautiful details up close:

Chris Jordan combined the horror of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with Hokusai’s famous woodcut The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. He re-interpreted the woodcut by creating it out of plastic waste.

His piece is made out of 2.4 million bits of plastic, which is the estimated number of pounds of plastic that enter the ocean every single hour. Here is a close-up:

The Japanese artist Sayaka Ganz creates sea creatures out of discarded plastic. Ganz grew up in Japan, where Shinto beliefs taught her that every object has a spirit, and that items discarded before their time weep in the trash bin.

This is her “Leatherback Sea Turtle,” a commentary of our use-and-dispose society.

And this is “Laysan Albatross:”

The photographer Jerry Takigawa is also concerned with the plight of the albatross. He created a series of photos titles “False Food,” in which he arranged bits and pieces of colorful and shiny objects that albatrosses often mistake for food:

This problem, of course, is real, as seen here:

South African artist Neath Nash creates lamps and home decor out of materials from discarded items. This, for example, is a lamp he created called “Milkhandle Ball:”

Nash is dedicated to upcycling other people’s rubbish, and by doing so he creats useful objects, provides jobs to local craftspeople, and raises awareness to environmental issues.

Artist Katharine Harvey creates monumental sculptures using everyday waste. She tries to show the effect plastics have on our world, and encourage people to keep the oceans clean. Her work “To the Depths” is a sobering wall-size:

And up-close:

What Can We Do?

We created a monumental plastic pollution problem, which can feel overwhelming. We did this in an astounding fifty years. Plastics didn’t exist on a large scale before the 1950’s, and weren’t mass-produced before the 60’s. We created a huge mess in a very short time, polluting our world as well as our fellow-creatures–and ourselves. But since we created this problem, we can also solve it. I really believe that humanity can overcome this, if we only put our minds to it.

The actions of each and every one of us matter. You can do your bit to help our planet, and as a result–our future generations. You don’t even need to do anything big. Just start small:

  • Shop less. You most likely already have everything you need.
  • Use less plastic. Replace disposable plastic items with multi-use non-plastic ones: replace single-use bottles with multi-use ones; stop using plastic bags and switch to reusable fabric ones. Buy non-plastic items whenever possible.
  • Clean after yourself and keep our environment little free. See litter on the pavement? Pick it up. Join groups to keep roadsides and beaches clean. Disposed of garbage properly. Litter picked off land will not make it to the ocean.
  • To prevent chemicals and toxins from reaching the sea, use less of them in your home and garden. Switch to environmentally-friendly products instead. And always make sure you dispose of things like paint, oil and other toxins by bringing them to a  waste disposal site.

Do you have more ideas? If so, I’d love to hear them!