Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shoot Your Wad

Wads are used to encase shot inside a shotgun shell and are one of the most pernicious pieces of plastic that we find on the beach. We have thousands of them in our collection. The walls of the wad protect the pellets from the charge restricting the shot pattern to a more coherent pattern. They shoot out of the gun and remain in the landscape long after the ducks and the hunters are gone. They float their way down rivers, from the wetlands to the sea. We have never been to the beach when we don’t find these in great numbers. Historically they were made of compressed paper, but with the advent of cheap polypropylene, they are now made of exclusively of plastic.

This print will be auctioned at the Bolinas Museum benefit auction September 17th at the Buell's historic barn. It's a great summer party for a great cause. We hope you will join us.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Birthday Beach

As one might imagine- the favorite place to celebrate Judith's birth is the beach so we headed there Sunday for the special Abbott’s Lagoon to Kehoe Beach trek- an all day sojourn that traverses a part of beach that we rarely visit- usually once a year.

Since this section of Ten Mile Beach is a prime nesting ground for the endangered Snowy Plover, Jeff Wilkinson, the greeter, is at the trailhead educating folks about the importance of not transgressing the fenced area that protects the nests. He entertained us with this song he wrote himself. 

We did this hike the first time for Judith 50th birthday-  on the left at 50 and years later on the right at 61 enjoying almost the same spot on the trail.

It was a glorious day- sunny not exactly balmy but warm enough to enact our ritual skinny-dip baptism - the water so chill that our calves seized up immediately- but a naked frolic in the waves is just the invigorating a 61 year old woman needs.

There was plenty of plastic to be found- almost simultaneously Richard pulled out of the sand a bright yellow French fry and Judith found a Lego-like clinched fist from an action figure. We each strutted our treasures proclaiming we each had found the best.

But the pièce de résistance was a metalized plastic balloon- the reflective Happy Birthday inscription was faded but still discernable- Hey, it’s party time!!! But those balloons are not  fun to wildlife and they don't biodegrade. Hey, the balloon party’s really over!!!

Although it is the off-season for plastic we found more than we could carry so we rigged up a “trailer” to haul back a weighty clump of a buoy. 

On the 13th, Judith's actual birthday, we enjoyed a tour of the Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris at the DeYoung Museum with curator Timothy Burgard. Wonderful to experience Picasso’s prodigious creativity. Bulls Head 1943 has long been an inspiration- a revelation of form and function- a recognizable bicycle seat and handle bars recontextualized into a bull’s head.  With that playful gesture he set into motion the idea of the objet trouve – which we continue today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pink Flamingo

Conjure up the tackiest, most unnecessary plastic product ever made and the pink flamingo lawn ornament may come to mind. It's seems like they have inhabited front lawns forever, but pink flamingo-ness was born in 1957, the brainchild of Don Featherstone of Leominster, MA.

Featherstone was a recent art-school grad in the mid-fifties who sculpted the original flamingo out of clay after trying out various birds—ducks and geese that would have been more in keeping with his New England landscape, but they never "took off" like the flamingos. The official copy-written birds come in sets of two, one bending its sinuous neck to eat and one upright alert. Over 20 million have been sold by Union Plastics alone. There are knockoffs, of course. But we believe the head we found on Kehoe beach is authentic. The plastic is thick and sturdy. As the years unfolded the plastic became ever thinner and more and more red.  Though to authenticate we'd need the whole body intact since Featherstone's signature appears on the underside.

They turn up everywhere, most recently as a marker that US soldiers had been around, like the "Kilroy Was Here" graffito of WWII. A couple of flamingos grace the now-dry fountain at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

Why flamingos?
We think maybe the flamingo mania came with a 50's romance about retirement to Florida, though flamingos are not endemic to Florida. A flock of the Caribbean variety was imported to the lake in the center of the Hialeah Racetrack in the 20's, where a flamingo ashtray souvenir may have started the craze or maybe it was Don Featherstone's desire to escape the New England winter.

Bugsy Siegal's trademark Las Vegas gambling palace hotel is the FlamingoCrayola introduced the color Pink Flamingo in 1998. John Water's movie Pink Flamingos (what better name for bad taste) is the benchmark by which all things vulgar are measured. The Flamingo's biggest doo-wop hit in 1959 was "I Only Have Eyes for You." 

We've been lucky enough to see real flamingos in the wild, a sparse flock in a volcanic lake in the Galapagos Islands and spectacularly huge flocks at Lake Manyara in Tanzania.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Combs and Toothbrushes

Along with billiard balls, combs were some of the first items made from plastic. The first plastic combs were made from nitro-cellulose or celluloid and later the "unbreakable" comb arrived in the 1940's made of nylon. We find combs and brushes almost every time we go to Kehoe.

Some of the very first combs were used not for grooming but mainly for hygiene. Nit picking. Getting parasites out of the hair. Fine wood and silver combs for this purpose have been dated to 5000 years ago and it's been theorized that the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe was passed along on nit-picking combs.

Because of their rarity we particularly cherish doll's combs and brushes. We have found only two Barbie combs in all these years—amazing to see that tiny thing in the welter of debris washing in. We've got a pretty good bunch of toy plastic brushes. We found a sparkly little comb from a Ty Girlz doll. Cutesy tween-age girls, the main feature is the style-able hair. Hey, com'n get 'em: there's Pretty Patty, Totally Trish, Punky Penny. And just off the assembly line, you once could buy a set of the two Obama Girlz. It was a big controversy when the dolls were named Sasha and Malia, the actual names of the Obama daughters. The Girlz were recalled and are now called Marvelous Maria and Sweet Sydney. An unre-called pair sold on e-Bay for $3000. The dolls are brought to you by the folks who generated the Beanie Baby frenzy.

It's said that combing or brushing the hair is healthful not only for bringing luster and vitality to the hair itself but the act of stimulating the scalp has an acupunctural effect. We don't have data on this idea but it sure feels good to unsnarl the hair and run the nubs of a brush or comb along the scalp. Anyone who commutes would do well to have a scalp massager comb on hand to keep the driver alert.

The toothbrush is a part of this family as well, hog bristles on a wooden handle was the first iteration going back to China in the 1600's. Hogback bristles were widely used until the invention of nylon and in 1938 the very first use of nylon was a toothbrush —Dr. West's Miracle Brush. Toothbrushes are another thing we've found on every trip to Kehoe. We have hundreds. These days you can buy handles with replaceable heads—good ideas are coming along.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


By the tens of hundreds, we find the ivory colored little tips from Tiparillo cigars. Any trip to the beach, no matter what season, we'll find at least 10, often many more.

They arrived on the smoking scene in 1962 from the General Cigar Company "improved" with a plastic mouthpiece so the cigar doesn't get chewed up and nasty—however, the plastic tip is often chewed to a frazzle end. We try to imagine a lonely fisherman pacing the deck worrying that little bit of plastic. Or an artist sculpting a Nike of Samothrace. Or maybe Tiparillos are just used because they are easy- the plastic tip could be clenched in the teeth leaving the hands free for tying knots, setting hooks, etc. 

BUT, why are there so many?

Tiparillo's became most famous for the 1964 ad campaign "Should a Gentlemen Offer a Lady a Tiparello?" This was the peak of smoking culture and the dawn of the liberated woman. The ladies in the ads were hardly what we'd call liberated—they were always showing lots of cleavage. "Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a violinist?"depicts a 20 year old blond in a nightgown open to the waist barely covering her nipples. Her long pink-polished fingernails holding a violin and bow would never be able to press strings to make a sound. The infantile oral fixation married to smoking, focused on her bountiful chest comes to us almost as a joke. But it represents a historical moment. The anonymous hand proffering the cigar is a cast toward additional oral fixation. 

There were scuba diver babes with unzipped wet suits. The dental hygienist, holding the mouth mirror like finger pondering, should I? So weird. The copy says "the dentist is a little late, hey, why didn't you have a toothache sooner?" More cleavage, more blond hair. Twin busty census takers had you seeing double. The ad with a naked librarian with a book held up to her breasts says, "Maybe she'll have to put the book down if you don't offer a light."

These days the Tiparillo is used to make blunts. The cigar skin is emptied of tobacco and filled with marijuana. The flavored paper of the menthol variety is a particular favorite. In San Francisco we see them littering the gutters on their way to sea. We are also starting to find the empty wrappers for flavored papers made from plasticised aluminum which will last forever. Now you can dispense with the tiparello altogether. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011


In the studio we sort first for color- the subtle gradations of rust to red, from fuscia to pink.      When presenting our collection of plastic we are frequently asked if we did something to the color?        Never!!!     From the brilliant yellow of a toothbrush handle to the cobalt blue of single use water bottle lid- the unlimited hues are what makes for a great palette of plastic.

In his poem FLESH, Richard muses on his childhood relationship to crayons and color.


It wasn't that the color didn't match
‘cause it wasn't called skin.
It was called flesh though it seemed flesh
didn't have much to do
with the color of skin.
Flesh was the stuff under the skin,
and anyway people weren't white.
People weren't black or red or yellow.
The skin of people was brown or coffee
or pale amber or tanned pink.

And old Binney & Smith in 1903
when the first crayon hit the scene
the box only HAD eight colors,
the usual ones, but the post-war big-box
had Flesh in it with the other 47.
Flesh was changed to Peach in 1962
and no Negro color replaced it
or yellow-man color
which reminds me of sitting
in a Pittsburgh hot dog joint.

At the next table an African-American boy
playing I-spy-with-my-little-eye,
saying “Brown” and pointing to his sister,
his mamma says, "No, baby, she yellow."
opening my eyes to the austere hierarchy
invisible to most of us with pale skin.
And Crayola dropped the Indian Red name
as a political correction in 1958
even though it was named
for a kind of iron oxide found in India.

And stuck in my brain is a swirling rainbow
of color like oil on water catching the light.
Skin of the "colored man"
my mama said was coming by
to do the lawn.

Disappointed that it was the open-hearted Major,
though I was always glad to see him,
an African-American man who
was kind to kids,
and had really been a Major in the war,
these days, mowing lawns.

He was no colored man though I kept looking
and maybe my mama was right,
if he would catch the light just so. . .
To this day my mind holds a picture
tight to itself of the real rainbow-colored man.

Finally, it was that eight year old
holding a hard tube of crayon in 1956
and saying over and over flesh, flesh.
Flesh was meat and I half expected it
to have the flow of warm blood pulsing.

And even now when I hear the word flesh,
I think of that peachy cylinder.
As in, the way of all flesh,
or sins of the flesh,
or in the flesh,
or flesh and blood,
and flesh eating bacteria,
or pressing the flesh,
and flesh and bones,
and, "Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt . . ."
and that pound of flesh Shylock
hoped would be the heart of Antonio,
And, come to think of it, just
how does the dark substance of my flesh
become these colorful thoughts,
the flesh of this poem.

Richard Lang, 2011

Thanks to Sarah Ratchye for embodying the rainbow.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Maximum impact, minimum carbon footprint

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet the images for our show Known Quantity- plastic from Kehoe Beach- were electronically transmitted to Singapore where the panels were printed. We are grateful to Jason Aspes for attending to all of the details. Viewable 24/7 until late summer.
138 Cecil Street #01-01
Cecil Court
Singapore 069538

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Plasticene Discontinuity at the Brower Center


Our print The Plasticene Discontinuity is on display in the front window of the Brower Center in Berkeley until September 2.

The history of the Earth can be read in the layers of built up sediments. Each deciphered layer offers an understanding of a moment in natural history. In the year 2855 CE, geologists discover a vein of brilliantly colored substances people once called “plastic.” This anomalous geological bed (a discontinuity) is much like the K-T Boundary that signaled the demise of the dinosaurs. The PD is evidence of a culture awash with “disposable” items, the remains of a people who valued short-term prosperity over posterity.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Exhibition at the Brower Center

June 16, 2011 – September 2, 2011

The Brower Center asked Bay Area artists to respond to David Brower’s quote: “Have a good time saving the world. Otherwise, you’re just going to depress yourself.” With over 500 submissions, we were inspired by the sheer breadth of the work. From traditional painting to installation to the conceptual avant-garde, this show is a powerful indicator of how pervasive social, environmental, and political concerns are among artists and the community at large. We hope that these 22 works — imaginative, contemplative, and playful — will also inspire our visitors to consider how we will all live in the future.

Artists include: Mari Andrews · Timothy Armstrong · Claire Brandt · Noah Breuer · Mark Bryan · Hagit Cohen · Alicia Escott · Lisa Espenmiller · William Harsh · Ryan Hendon · Anthony Holdsworth · Grant Johnson · Michael Kerbow · Kimberlee Koym-Murteira · Alexis Laurent · Jeff Long · Viviana Paredes · Ruth Santee · Judith Selby Lang and Richard Lang · Esther Traugot · Michelle Waters · Stephen Whisler

Jurors: Lucinda Barnes, Chief Curator and Director of Programs and Collections, Berkeley Art Museum · DeWitt Cheng, freelance art writer · Amy Tobin, Executive Director, David Brower Center

Gallery Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704 Tel: 510.809.0900.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Mountainfilm in Telluride inspired by happiness

Maybe it was the rarefied air with 17% less oxygen that made us giddy or maybe it was the action- packed days that started at 7:15 AM, early up and out, so we could make it to an 8 AM Coffee Talk or the action-packed days that ended late with drinks with new friends.

 One  Plastic Beach  screened four times - once to an auditorium packed with students for the Mountain Film in the Classroom program- Making Movies that Matter, two times in the regular film festival, and finally, because it was so popular, it was selected as a TBA- for the last day finale- picks of the festival.

We did a Q+A with each screening. First thing, each time, we gave a big shout out to Eric Slatkin and Tess Thackara (directors/producers) with a big expression of our gratitude. It was their vision for the film and commitment to seeing it through that got us to Telluride.

We were glad to be such active Mountainfilm participants from our Q+A’S, the exhibition at AH-HAA, the Coffee Talk and the making of the trophies. Although we were always on the job- we even had a chance to enjoy a few movies.

We are big fans of the friendly Telluride style where conversations start up impromptu- while standing in line waiting for a film or over the breakfast table where strangers exchange stories and become friends.

Coffee Talks One Word – Plastic
Judith held her own with esteemed colleagues, David deRothschild (Plastiki), Andy Keller (Chico Bags) and Suzan Beraza (Bag It)

On Saturday the SF Chronicle had a big feature about Andy and Chico Bags and the lawsuits against him by plastic bag manufacturers.

We were so happy for all of the award winners. Especially happy that Roko Belic won two trophies for his movie Happy - as the Audience Favorite and the Student Award by the students in the Movies that Matter program. 

Kudos to Prudence Mabhena who won the first Indomitable Spirit Award who rocked with her soulful rendition of One Love
Along the way we collected some authentic Telluride plastic and fashioned one very special trophy for Bebe, festival director David Holbrooke’s daughter. Bebe saw our film on the Internet then sent it on to her Dad insisting that he had to have us at Mountainfilm.

Big thanks to Jeremy Baron for permission to use his photograph of Prudence at the award ceremony and of Judith at the Coffee Talk.

USA Today reports on  Mountainfilm. 

Mountainfilm Mission statement -
educating and inspiring audiences about issues that matter, cultures worth exploring, environments worth preserving and conversations worth sustaining.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Earth Day 2011

The first Earth Day, April 22,1970 was organized by Senator Gaylord Nelson as a response to the horrible Santa Barbara oil well blow-out of January of 1969. Just one month before the spill, the most powerful image of the 20th Century, Earthrise over the moon horizon, was shot by astronaut Bill Anders from the Apollo 8 spacecraft. It was the first journey humans had made out of Earth’s orbit. Anders' Earthrise preceded the images of oil-soaked birds filling our psyches. Surfers emerging from the waves black from crude oil were cover stories all over the US. 

The image of the blue marble in the black void was an unavoidable reminder of our commonality as citizens of planet Earth. In those days, the environment was not a political football tossed around casually as it is today—the decade of the 70's became a Golden Age of environmentalism — DDT was banned, the EPA was created, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts were signed into law, the Superfund law—even Nixon gave speeches urging environmental legislation. In 1980 Reagan reversed the trend, cornering and Balkanizing environmentalism into becoming just another "special interest."

Just this April 7, 2011 The House, passed an anti-EPA bit of legislation forbidding regulation on greenhouse gasses. How hard is it to realize—no air, no water, no life? Anti-environmentalists argue that dire predictions made that first Earth Day never came true. Funny, but it was the legislation passed that brought that about.

So, here we are again headed out for Kehoe, feeling that maybe taking one miniscule bit of the planet, where the ocean meets the land, we can tell the story of what is happening planet-wide and maybe telling it with some good humor, some heart felt grief, and just the weird geeky-ness of having done this for 12 years now. Can this be a way to open the mind to action? Today we are not alone doing this.

The Environmental Action Committee of Marin and the Park Service scheduled a cleanup at Kehoe. It was a great success, our plastic buddy Richard James was handing out bags and advice at the trail head. People were readily going at the task and we met a bunch of folks to share the labor. There must be a gene for the "search and find" fervor. It's both the unexpected and then finding just the thing you've been looking for that floats our boat, and our little tribe of cohorts.  By weight today, it was rope and line, hawsers and net. Getting that stuff that out of the waste stream feels most virtuous—a tangle-trap for birds, turtles and marine mammals.

Speaking of mammals, far down the beach was a harbor seal pup, very newly arrived, with fold-y skin and grey fluff all over. It'd remind you of a Shar Pei pup. It's in the tide line scootching up to keep out of the rising tide waiting for its mother. As this is the only beach on this side of the point that allows dogs, seems like everyone has a dog. Richard J. has been warning the dog people, as they headed out, to keep their pooches on a lead so's not to be harassing the poor thing. He told us, he had made a leash out of retrieved line for a dog on the loose.

And the Peregrines are seriously nesting up on a nook of the sheer yellow ochre Laird sandstone formation. We'd been seeing them play at it for last few weeks, but now they are paired up and ready for what they came here for—to make more Peregrines. There is a ledge and behind is a dark niche where the baby’s will be raised. The perch is a perfect look-out, where the female is perusing the whole scene—the ravens, the Redtails & we the plastic gleaners. The banning of DDT in 1972 allowed Peregrines, and most of the top of the food chain birds (eagles, condors and some owls) to return from the brink of extinction. Jeeze, they way they fly, veering up the cliff face, swooping, wings tucked in, then coming to a dead stop at the nest, it's better than Cirque du Soleil. We get a good look with the binos— We'd make that heroic confident bird the national symbol. Thank God our legislators had some sense to ban DDT.

It was a grey day, a bit heavy feeling with rain just at the horizon line, the wind out of the southwest—the rain wind. As typical this year, from several trips, the plastic has been intermittent. Today, we found all the usual things, oyster tubes, combs, tiparillo tips shotgun wads, lighters. Sadly, no soldiers. Dropping the focus to the smaller bits we got reminded about the color and patina that attracted us in the first place.  We gathered a lot of tiny pieces. And, as the focus narrows nurdles come into the spotlight, pernicious little devils, packed with absorbed toxins. In 2009 we had gathered packets of 100 to send off to Japan for analysis by Shige Takada. The report came back that they were loaded with DDT. 40 years later DDT is still floating around in the ocean. Good thing Peregrines don't eat fish. Hey, we eat fish, fish eat nurdles, Who's endangered now? 

Earth Day 2011. As we toil up the trail with a weighty load—we didn't just scout for stuff we like—today we picked up everything. 

The Song Sparrows were chorusing in the Tule Marsh. The cliffs were ablaze with yellow­—­Cowslips, fragrant Lupin, Buttercups, Monkey Flowers and of course, California Poppies, the coastal variety. How many hues of yellow can there be? and our very favorite the lovely Tidy Tips.