Saturday, February 26, 2011

To Change the World

Along with the premier of our film we were invited to be on a post-film panel to discuss: To Change the World: Art, Ecosexuality and Environmental Evangelism. Wow. Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens and  Savitri D and Reverend Billy. We were a little star-struck to be on the same program and the discussion turned out to activate challenging and profound thoughts. Questions we've been mulling over for some time. How great it was to talk things over in public with other creative folks. Mostly about, how does art function in politics? Does art have a role in fostering political action?

Essentially, we've always thought of political art as an oxymoron. Art that tries to prove a point is essentially what advertising does —images and words that try to sell. The true political act is to think for oneself. To allow an idea though to its conclusion. Everyone has ideas but allowing an idea acquiesce—in writing, painting, any of the arts—is the most powerful human force on Earth, and that's a political act.

Our work has diligently avoided polemic. Of course, we have an agenda with the plastic we find. In the beginning it was a simple act of planetary housekeeping, we like a clean beach. And now we'd like to see single-use plastic banned, it's causing havoc to us, and to many other creatures. But, first and foremost, we want to excite the pleasure principle, because we believe that while people are activated by pain as a call to action, lasting resolve is fashioned by joy and love.

We are always trying to simplify, to keep true to the "stuffness" of plastic pollution. Not to make the plastic resemble something else, but to shape it in a way that creates its own context. We hope, with the stuff we create, to elicit at first, "Wow, that's beautiful. Wow, what is that?“ Then with a move towards recognition, "Oh, I had one of those.”  Finally, with the realization, there is no away as in throw-away.

We have no use for snarky irony that can make you seem clever and the enervating cynicism that follows. Make it good to look at and people will look at it, after all, artists often forget they are in the entertainment business.

One Plastic Beach movie premier

On February 25, One Plastic Beach had its world premier at the Geography of Hope Film Festival in Point Reyes. In an eight minute film Tess Thakara and Eric Slatkin vibed our project. We are grateful to them for the time and attention they gave to our crazy endeavor. 

One Plastic Beach from Tess Thackara on Vimeo.


We arrive at the film screening just off the beach — hair tossled, shoes sandy, pockets full of fresh finds – exuberant because the cold clear air has snapped everything into sharp focus and we’re rollin’-ready to evangelize about our eco- love story.

Days before there had been a great northern storm that had threatened snow to sea level. And although the flurries never made it- there was evidence of the gale winds. The beach was “blown-out,” meaning when a storm passes with mostly wind the sand blows over the big pieces of plastic – challenging our hunting gathering skills. Sometimes only a thin knife edge of a large piece is visible.

Since there was not much plastic where the trail meets the beach, we stretch it out, walk quickly all the way north to the end- the full 1,000 yards - then meander back.

Early on, in the art-making part of our journey together we made a piece from a toy plastic pirate knife. Both of us had 25+ years in the studio as solitary artists so to express the Venn diagram of both the love and the art, Judith made a piece to depict the process. With a knife set on end and a little filigree plastic butterfly on the edge- we called it "Collaboration." It's a dance on the edge with two strong egos at work.  who've decided to not release anything until there is complete agreement. Today, eleven years later we find another knife; this time the fantasy has gone from pirate to commando. A plastic commando knife. Hmmm we need something else. Stay tuned.

We do gather three bags full of plastic, but distraction rules on a day so clear and a low tide to boot. Mussels (dipped in butter) for the party after the panel. At home the knife has gone to butter- hummmm from butterfly knife to butter knife- what’s the meaning in that message?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

with old and new friends

As distracting as it is from the job at hand to have other folks "on the job," distracting from the hard work of gathering it's a lovely kind of colloquy—friendships are always more alive when there is work to do. Talk, talk, talk and then we settle into the glean in earnest. These are accomplished people we are with. Makes us feel rich to know such people. Brewster is mastermind of the Internet Archive  and his wife Mary founded the San Francisco Center for the Book. Their son Logan is an avid and very focused birder.

Logan has scope and binos and field guide at the ready. Richard mentions he had come to Kehoe a while back, on a weekday expecting an empty beach, coming over the hill to see, 300 people in green and khaki. Everyone had scopes and binos. A flock of birders here to see the Bristle Thigh-ed Curlew. The alert had gone out. Logan says, "Oh yes, that would have been in 1997." Wow!!! That kid is—focus.

Brewster and Mary we’ve known for some time. Their web connections are well worth your time. The Internet Archive is just that, and the Center for the Book is full of resources for hand bookbinding, printing—totally old school. We visit these sites often.

Daisy and Chris are new friends. Daisy came along to see first hand what we do as she’s the curator of the art space at 142 Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley.  Daisy will be showing our work coming up in a show she has titled From Now to Eternity, May 20 - June 30 with a reception on June 7 from 5- 7 PM. Daisy curated a show of Mary's book collection Exploding the Codex that is there right now through March 31st.

Chris has been busy transcribing the interviews he’s been doing with Mort Sahl. Mort Sahl! We can’t wait to see that. Richard saw Mort at the Purple Onion in 1964.

Today there is the usual plastic: shotgun waddings, tiparello tips, black tubes from the oyster fishery. Plasticized food bags for chips, candy and "energy" bars are turning up in real numbers. A plasticized and aluminized Doritos bag holding 3/4 of an ounce is simply criminal. Where’s the EIR on that item? A thing that looks like a crab claw resolves to a pale horse head, hard to see, is snatched up by Richard  and a little sheep, hard to see, is snatched up by Chris then an ivory colored knife, hard to see, is snatched up by Brewster. The competitive collecting spirit gets rolling. We are onto some real picking up, bags full to sort at home.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Eleanor Roosevelt

Last week we were ready to cash-out and give it up—it's tiring and sad picking up other people's stuff, we could get really disheartened...but this week we bring our friends M. and S. who've never been to Kehoe. We are total show-offs, braggin' on our beach like it was a grand-baby. At our house, they toured the "plant" where we wash, sort and figure what to do with all this crap/treasure. They got to see the warehouse/barn where we store our inventory, sorted into bins of shoes, a box-load of the plastic inserts for baseball cap visors, shotgun wads, a bag full of toy soldiers, etc etc. I mean, you think we're gonna throw out the stuff we find? And, BTW exactly where is the "out" as in “throw out.”

At the parking area we are surprised to see A. who has been by Electric Works with his CCA printmaking students for a tour. "Is this really your beach!?" (on the tour I had told the story of our beach project). He had gotten to beach by being lost and just looking for a place he could walk his dog. Kehoe is famous for being one of two beaches where dogs are allowed. He tells the friend he's with our story—he's got it pretty right—he's actually read the blog. (Our hero! He recounted perfectly the story of finding the soldier in the garbage can.)

Sadly, for M. and S., the beach was not the horrible mess we had represented — we made excuses that Kehoe is a fickle mistress not showing us the full glory of the winter-time strew. It hasn't really stormed so far in 2011, The plastic lies buried under wind-blown sand. M. commented—"You know once you start looking there really is a lot." M. and S. have good eyes for the search—good pattern recognition honed as intrepid flea-marketeers. M. really wants to find a toy something and as Judith proclaims the "thing of the day" a yellow toy canoe, eyes are double-pealed. Judith then finds a lighter. The pressure is on.
S. finds a comb, the first of two for him, (combs were some of the first objects made from plastic) then Judith finds a soldier. OK, this is serious. Richard finds a soldier. M.'s starting to suspect we brought these from home. The canoe was pretty awesome, but soldiers? A lighter? “How'd you see those things?”

So follows, three of the Seven Deadly's rearing up—pride, avarice, and envy. Judith, sweet as she is, can surprise you getting a gloat-on when it comes to this project. She proffered a closed hand with a smug eyebrow raised—proclaiming her soldier in an opened palm.

M.'s design office is filled with the coolest things, each item carrying a whole story. We know he'd like to have found the canoe last made in the mid-60's by the Bergman Toy Mfg. not far from where Richard grew up in Illinois. The little boat was part of a set that included Indians on the war-path with raised tomahawks. Then M. finds the true “prize of the day,” an ocean-worn figure, enigmatic and eroded. It's evokes the Cycladic figurines from the early Bronze Age. It'd look good mounted on an alabaster cylinder inside museum vitrine. We look closer. No, we think it may be Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tar Ball

Most times we’re pretty upbeat about what we do. The feelings of disgust and grief are back-burnered to the thrill of being on the hunt. Today with an abundance of plastic debris it should proffer the song of the joyous worker happily on task. But today it’s too much. Bending, bending…it gets you out of breath. Yes, there was lots of stuff to glean—some of it rare and envied and that inner wave of covetous glee was activated again and again. A soldier right off the bat, three lighters. Boom boom boom—stuck in the “treasure pocket” for gloating later. Lots of stuff. Three black Kodak film canisters show up holding our interest: these will soon be fossils from the Plasticene.

And the beautiful day, the first real warm day of the season, should evoke just a bit of uplift. But a lingering bitterness surfaces—its mantra: “picking up other peoples crap- picking up other peoples crap- picking up other peoples crap. All that does is focus the energy on an aching back. We are barefoot in the warm sand, then Judith steps on a big hidden tar-ball…I step on a smaller one. Ukk, this may be our last trip, feeling old and tired, we’re ready to cash out and fold.

Home, its better, we did find some good stuff, the tar cleaned with a “hair of the dog that bit you”…gasoline. The petrochemical circle. There were two wildflowers new to us and looking on the web for the names we stumble on the fact that the PRNSS is a sister park to Kolkheti National park in the Republic of Georgia. Hey! Who is having an exhibit in the US embassy in the Rep of Georgia?  Hey! Field Trip! We are such suckers for uplift.

Baby Blue Eyes

Friday, February 4, 2011


This is high season for plastic plus it’s a beautiful, mild, windless day. So much plastic to choose from could turn us gluttonous. We go with son Eli who is back from sojourns in Africa (the kid's passport is 'bout a half inch thick with visas). It was Eli who accompanied Richard on the first Kehoe cleanup in 1996 three years before the fateful meeting of Judith. Judith had been gathering her own plastic from a place called Blackie's Pasture Beach, around the same time.

Eli in 1996

Lots of rubbery fish lures, which we love, lighters and two "army" men—a dancing Indian and an alien in a Hazmat suit. Maybe the most special item, a helmet from a Ninja Turtle. Judith again, with her skillful looking. Two doll brushes! In twelve years of doing this we've only found four total. We hefted home six bags full and at this writing we're still "processing"—washing and sorting. 

Best of all, though, was the low tide. High luminous clouds reflected in the sheer of soft tide washing far up the beach. And the great bonus with the low tide, we were able to get to the mussel beds and gathered a bucket for supper. mmmmmmmmmMussels.