Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ghost Net

The shape and content of these images was inspired by Jackson Pollock’s seminal painting Full Fathom Five, so named from a line in Ariel’s song from The Tempest:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Line and rope from an enormous ghost net was unraveled to emulate the skeins of paint in Pollock’s work. Ghost nets are pernicious entanglements of lost commercial fishing gear. Birds, fish, and marine mammals get caught in this silent floating debris —trapped in what is called “ghost fishing.” The “catch” weighs the net down so it sinks. Scavengers consume the contents so the net floats again and continues to sink and rise forever. It is estimated that ghost nets, some up to 4,000 yards long, account for approximately 10% of all marine plastic pollution.

The ghost net used in these pieces came directly from the North Pacific Gyre. The gyre, an accumulation of plastic caught in circling currents in area northeast of Hawaii, is sometimes called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It is estimated to be 300,000 square miles—making it larger than Texas. By both weight and size it is the biggest garbage dump on earth. Plastic is composed of polymers that never “biodegrade” —they are with us forever sloughing and breaking down to make a polymer soup that outweighs the plankton in this area by a factor of 30 to 1.

Project Kaisei, based in San Francisco and Hong Kong, is a scientific and commercial venture whose mission is to study and cleanup the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In the summer of 2009, when Project Kaisei returned from the gyre with a truckload of plastic debris they asked if we could store it. We are grateful to have the use of their collection.

For more than a decade we have collected and fashioned artwork from over two tons of plastic pollution gleaned exclusively from 1000 yards of Kehoe Beach along the Point Reyes National Seashore. For this project we gladly stepped outside of our usual geographical parameters.

These high resolution images were created and printed at Electric Works, a gallery and fine art print studio in San Francisco.

Our exhibition "Ghost Net" in the SFMOMA Artist Gallery Windows on Minna Street will be on display until June 2011.

Block Party

After almost a year of planning and anticipating the installation of "Block Party" in the SFMOMA Artist Gallery windows on Natoma Street the job is done. All of the plastic you see here was collected by two people from 1,000 yards of beach, Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. One piece at a time. Our collecting is limited to this one spot.
Since 1999, we have collected over two tons of plastic trash and have used it make prints, installations, and sculptures, finding this plastic pollution as a compelling art material. It was all washed onto the beach from out in the Pacific, the San Francisco Bay, and from the Russian River Watershed.
In 2005 the United Nations Environmental Programme reported that there are 46,000 pieces of visible plastic floating in every square mile of the ocean. This fact seemed like a good starting point to count and exhibit this representative sample.

Special thanks to Intersection for the Arts for coordinating the workshops with Larkin Street Youth Services. Even the rote task of stringing plastic was transformed by their individual creative approaches. It was exciting to see how seriously, and with great attention to detail, each person fashioned their strand.

Fredisha H.
Raymond J.
David W.
John S.
Zaire B.
Daniel L.
Mayco R.
Jose A.
Adrienne S.
Michael W.
Gustavo M.
Christian H.
Warren R.
Don Clay V.
Lauren Forbus Peer Vocational Counselor
Tyrone Smith Day Labor Supervisor
Megan Doherty-Baker Day Labor Manager
Peter Carpou Art Program Manager
Rebeka Rodriguez
Program Director, Education and Community Engagement
Ryan Biega Intern

Train Wreck

We've been talking with each other lately more about “place” than “plastic.” Plastic pollution, the trash we pick up, one piece at a time gets us to the beach to add to our collection, but foremost among our desires is the lean we have to be in a place that is intact—unspoiled by the industrial global market place. Where the plants and animals are shaped by the forces of natural selection, where the terrain of the landscape is shaped by forces of plate tectonics - this place feels absolutely right.

The mood at the beach depends on the light and weather but it always feels authentic which in turn gets us talking about existentialism. Before the psychedelic roller coaster in the later 60's when reality gained mutability, it was the simple fact of pure being that moved us. Artists like Alberto Giacometti and Jackson Pollock were the heroes trying to show in paint and bronze what it feels like to accept existence as it is and to live a life navigating by your own lights.

On the trail to the beach where the ground has been continually disturbed, you do walk through a slough of invasive species: European Mustard and Hemlock and Italian Thistle, but once at the beach it feels intact, like out of a book on natural history.

In spring the marsh thick with native Cattail and Tule is whirring with the calls of Redwing Blackbirds. Last summer we saw a pair of Tundra Swans flying back and forth over the marsh. Long necks like arrows. As you approach the beach, European Beach Grass was planted to stop the motion of the dunes. That has done more harm than good. Now a pilot program has started to remove the invasive grass.... it’s a great experiment to see if a place can be put back right. Despite the flaws, all in all, this National Seashore is the most "right" one can feel. It'd be pretty close to perfect place were it not for the plastic.

On the beach we meet a pair of women who volunteer for Beach Watch a project of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. They've got clipboards and sheets of numbers–they are counting live birds and dead ones as well as mammals. We tell them that the Peregrine nesting site high on the cliff last spring had four chicks. Today it had a pair of young adult Peregrines calling chirrup-chirrup not the insistent baby hungry squawk they made when we last saw them. This sounded like love.

Kehoe Beach wasn't always here-some of the geology matches the granite rocks of the Tehachapi slip fault 300 miles south. Some from the Monterey Formation is from sediments deposited underwater, the earlier ones are bedded like pages in a book and the soft sandstone of the Laird Formation was laid down probably in riverbeds. Bands of pebbles from fossilized riverbeds are visible. It’s all been tumbled together as illustrated in this animation from UC Santa Barbara. http://emvc.geol.ucsb.edu/downloads.php There are lots of enlightening animations, this one used with gracious permission of Tanya Atwater, director of The Educational Multimedia Visualization Center.

What we think of as a fixed place in our visual world is always in motion. Where is here? Today the most spectacular sight is the cliff where the Laird Formation smacked into the granite. It looks like a train wreck with the cars piled up onto an immovable object—the light sandstone heaved up onto the granite.

Those cliffs lit by slanting light accompanied by the sound of booming surf – we are witness to big drama when the imperceptible motions of the Earth are made visible.
And to the plastic. Judith was supreme. A pink Dolphin—pretty easy to spot, but that tiny alien? How'd she ever pick him out of the strew?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Season Opener. 12th Year Anniversary.

There were no bands or speeches, no fireworks or singing of The Star Spangled Banner. But the sea wrack was a festive-looking bunting of green kelp cables confettied with bits of plastic shrapnel. Festive? Such a strange mix of feelings to be back on the job, both thrilled and at once, thoroughly disgusted. It's a sullen day of lowering clouds portending rain.

All of this stuff tossed away and now come back, sea worn, some of it from the 1940's when synthetics rose to replace vital materials for the war effort. We've found items we can date from that era, intact and completely identifiable. Time and forever. The long forever. And geologic time is part of the scene at Kehoe. The line of cliffs here make a horizontal time-line ranging from the Miocene (10 MYA) back to 100 million years to the Cretaceous.Soon after we bent to the task (Judith found the first lighter of the season and right away Richard found the first cheese spreader stick) a group of forty came through the defile of the trail and down to the beach. Each with a printout of the 1000-yard silhouette of the cliff wall. The line drawing looks like some Levantine script. Geology class. We've seen dozens of these groups. Two TA’s carry square headed pick hammers.

They've come to see the bones of the earth exposed and laid out like some monumental "Fig. A" in the book of slow changes. Toward the end of the beach is a dramatic texture and color change as grey granite sits contiguously in contact with pale yellow sandstone.

The students seem curious and open-faced, bright and on task unlike some groups we see who, filling a science requirement, present a sullen overweight and disinterested manner. Today these Geology majors from UC Berkeley seem genuinely interested. We show a girl the bag of plastic we've collected, explain that the future geologists will describe our findings as fragments from the Plasticene Era. We ask the teacher, "How did 10 million year old rock get butted smack against 100 million year old rock?" He tells how the Monterey Formation was on a magma conveyor that collided with the granite. The granite is the same pluton bubble that made the Sierras. “Pluton?” Richard queries. The teacher responds, “The huge up thrust of deep granite. The borderline of the collision is called an unconformity or discontinuity. It's a violent event though in slow motion. Fossils are usually broken up. You rarely see fossils at the juncture but go look just past that dune and you can see a line of barnacles and mollusks." We do and there they are, the secret inner life of stone long in the dark, now exposed for us to see.The Prof says he's never seen this anywhere else in the inexorable motion of geology. He is talking about time, big time. Yet, even in our short twelve years here, we've seen changes. This year the plastic arrived earlier than we've ever seen and last spring it stayed later.

Today we collect two bags of random chunks and the usual oyster tubes, sabots, tiparello tips. No soldiers though. We love finding soldiers.On the trail back we stop to watch a three-foot garter snake moving sluggishly in the grass. Usually they vanish like water poured down a drain. This snake has a small rat inside made visible in the expanded girth about three inches below the head. We know it’s a rat cause some folks coming along behind us say they had seen the snake trying to swallow the rat. They couldn't believe it got the thing swallowed. I tell Judith I once saw a snake with a frog head in its mouth. Nothing but the head, the body already down the hatch.At the trailhead next to the road there are two garbage cans – one for sorting recyclables, one for trash. Because of our strict parameters of “found on 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach” we usually don’t do this but Judith took a look–see. In the can sitting up on a broken plastic Igloo cooler lid was a soldier. Right there, our first soldier of the season. Yea! It seems like some strange victory for the season opener.  Pyrrhic victory at best.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Often, like any collector we sort and resort our treasures and in the latest sifting—a dollhouse phone popped out of the blizzard of bits and pieces of plastic debris. We didn’t notice it at first. We almost missed it. But, in our cleaning and sorting process we found it as one of the hundreds of miniature furnishings made by the Renwal Company. It was last manufactured in 1956. It looks pretty good as iPhone wallpaper.

B-rrrrrrrr-iiing. Sounds like a long distance call.

A phone within a phone within a phone becomes an infinite regress as it does in optics where an infinite series of receding images are created in two parallel facing mirrors.

B-rrrrrrrr-iiing. Sounds like a way long distance call.