Thursday, December 27, 2012

Glad Tidings



Glad tidings…from Kehoe Beach

We are sure glad about what transpired this year. We are grateful to the many enthusiastic supporters who helped us spread the word - our beach plastic project has educated and entertained from Kehoe Beach to Zürich, from Monterey to Tbilisi.

Special thanks to the special people who helped our story go far and wide.

We started 2012 with Masterpiece Made of Trash for the Travel Channel series Bizarre Collections.

Mike Leonard from CBS produced Oceans and Art that premiered on the Today show- yes, that TODAY show first-thing-in-the-morning If you missed it live it is now available on Vimeo. 

Via SKYPE we were live on prime time Tokyo WOWOW TV. No, we have not yet found any tsunami plastic but we do find plastic from Japan all of the time.

The Plastic in Question graced the 1st, 4th and 5th floors of the San Francisco Public Library-Main Branch. The library staff was a dream of a team to help us refigure our blog into reader friendly text panels that were perfect for the library going public. 

We were Washed Ashore, the cover story in the summer issue of National Parks magazine. 

One Plastic Beach is the little movie that could. To date it has had quite an Internet presence with 143,100 hits on Vimeo. All year it’s been on the road, traveling throughout the US with Mountainfilm in Telluride and the Wild and Scenic Film Festival.

And thanks to Teknion we have been on the road too. We presented Indra’s Net our power point to workshop participants at the Dallas Museum of Art and the Newseum in Washington D.C. 

Our Kehoe Beach nurdles or "Mermaid's Tears," as they are more poetically named, are included in Out to Sea? that opened at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (Museum of Design Zurich) and has now moved on to Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg until March 31, 2013

"The Ghost Below" opened December 1 at The Marine Mammal Center. Our looming nine-foot "monster" made from ghost nets and derelict fishing gear from the stomach of a beached sperm whale is the first in a series of exhibitions and events to highlight the problem of marine mammal entanglement. 

June 1, mark your calendar
The Oakland Museum has been under construction for a long time – when the natural science area is completed it will be the first time in five years that all areas of the museum will be open. Plan to visit the art, the history AND the nature on June 1, 2013. You can see our installation The Great Conveyor in the Cordell Bank area.

March 22, mark your calendar
We have of late turned our attention to a somber bit of plastic jetsam. Through the years we have amassed quite a collection of toy soldiers. When we look into their tiny faces we are amazed by their expressions. Wracked by a long life at sea, some of the faces are gnarled, chewed on, abraded by the sand. Each is a poignant reminder of the ravages of war. March 22 – April 28 we will present The True Cost of Plastic at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes Station. 

Seems like Kehoe Beach is not going to be plastic-free anytime soon so until then we will be doing our best to do something about it. Our most important effort is stemming the tide. Stopping the plastic before it even gets to the beach. Re-thinking everything, every piece of plastic we use and asking ourselves- do we need this?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Indra's Net

In preparation for the grand reopening of the natural sciences galleries at the Oakland Museum next June we presented our PowerPoint, Indra's Net to the docents and staff.

Indra in Hindu mythology lays an infinite net over the universe where at every juncture a jewel hangs reflecting all other jewels.

Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore is our jewel on the net. Since 1999 we have focused our efforts on a single point, on just 1000 yards of beach. We have cast Kehoe Beach as the stage for a drama that explores ideas of (dare we say it without irony in this postmodern world?) love and beauty. This pinpoint of land is an exemplar of the planetary problem of plastic pollution and the site of our ongoing investigation of geology, botany, biology, along with the history and development of polymers and plastic. One interest leading to another to another as a perfect example of how everything is connected to everything else.

The creative process is at the core of how we think and what we do. In our presentations we incorporate jokes and poetry and great visuals. For the art docents we spoke about our some 40 years of experience as studio artists and the aesthetic influences that shaped our Cordell Bank installation. For the history docents we told stories about some of the individual pieces of plastic we have found and how we discover their origins. For the natural science docents we talked about Kehoe Beach and its proximity to Cordell Bank.

The docents appreciated our talk/slideshow and afterwards we got to take a look at our plastic display. We had not seen the install completed. We are going to add a few more bottle islands to the ceiling making a better connection between the table-top display and the ceiling and have to add a few more stories to the booklets. But all and all we are THRILLED!!!


The Oakland Museum has been under construction for a long time – when the natural science area is completed It will be the first time in five years that all areas of the museum will be open. Plan to visit the art, the history AND the nature on June 1, 2013.






Sunday, December 16, 2012



It was such an auspicious beginning — the ghost net monster animated by the wind whipping the nets was better than we could have imagined.Then watching visitors to The Marine Mammal Center do the attraction/repulsion dance as they were intrigued and then horrified — and yes, that undeniable smell of whale.

In our early years, after our grad school training in post-modern art theory it was the esoteric and difficult that seemed important. Since we began our beach plastic project we have turned the tide and have sought venues where art could have a wider impact. Our work has gone well outside the confines of the traditional gallery/museum, white-walls spaces. We've been heartened to see our work on the back of busses, at the US Embassy in Tbilisi, at the San Francisco Public Library, in the bathrooms of an upscale resort hotel. The world outside the accustomed is where we want to be. We love visiting the ivory towers of culture, but to see our work at the TMMC feels totally right, and we happy to be a part of the TMMC's mission to include art as part of the program.

Why art in a hospital? TMMC is a special place for healing, not only for the marine mammals who are patients but also for the visitors, volunteers, and staff.

We believe that if art that can hold the gaze of the viewer long enough to interrupt the mind-numbing drone heard daily regarding the dire state of the planet, it can have a positive healing and life-affirming effect.

Hey, we too are marine mammals and we are glad to have that special TMMC healing energy coming our way.

Thanks to Michael Hanrahan for his comprehensive report about “The Ghost Below” for the Mill Valley Patch. 



That’s Alex Treu, fabricator, Judith Lang, artist, Richard Lang, artist and Anne Veh, curator in the photograph.

Which side ???

Friends have asked, regarding my letter to the West Marin Citizen11/15/12,  "Exactly which side are you on? Was that Letter To The Editor simply another, ‘Why can't we just get along? Kumbaya?’"  Maybe...but really, it's a plea to shift gears. Here in West Marin, two groups fought an internecine struggle while mutually engaged in a shared vision for sustainability, biodiversity, low carbon footprint, healthy farming practices—these two groups have divided themselves into what I’ve come call the Agriculturati and Wildernistas.

As I said, I’d been on both sides of the issue, but now that the decision has been made by Sect’y Salazar, my feelings have settled like silt in a pond and now, I’m profoundly sad about how this went down. Families with children are affected, the Lunny family who has put heart and soul into this endeavor is affected, we are all affected by the loss of a viable and rich source of sustainable food. Food. Not only food but also, the mighty oysters function as nature’s kidneys cleaning the estuary. 

Judith, my wife, and I were in DC early this fall to give a presentation at the NEWSEUM about plastic pollution in the ocean. We were put up in a hotel used mainly by out-of-town lobbyists. During our stay we kept running into large, blond, thick-fingered folks speaking with dipthonged A’s—the accent we heard in the movie Fargo. They all had big yellow buttons saying “Ask me about the farm bill.” We did. 


They were in DC from North Dakota, Iowa—Midwestern farmers lobbying for an extension of the Crop Insurance Act, a program that allows family farmers to compete with big agribusiness. The Cargills and ADMs of the world can absorb the vicissitudes of weather and pricing, but family farms, always at the edge of financing, have a harder time. The farmers told us the thrust of not allowing crop insurance has allowed the agri-giants to absorb family farm after family farm. Bad news for the environment especially as the chemical industry is in the business of making farming drug-dependant—the pushers are Dow, Monsanto, Bayer, BASF—getting farmers hooked is their idea of better living through chemistry.

Disinformation abounds, just last summer the nationally distributed report from Stanford that became a media meme, said organic food wasn’t any better for you than chemically farmed food. Hmmm…. who supported that report and pushed its distribution? Although Cargill had no traceable link to the funding, they fund the department that did the study. And a group from the UK, using the same data came up with opposite results. The crucial and unspoken issue was not the food itself but what “conventional” farming does by destroying the soil, increasing dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In January of 2009 the Supreme Court acceded to the Citizen's United case. However, corporations are not people or alive, they are robots whose only purpose is to maximize profits. The "good guys" in the contention are all of us who value the complexity of living systems. The "bad guys" are entities who have little at stake save a quarterly report. And they are not "bad," per se, there is no evil 007 bad guy working the levers—corporations are simply mindless automatons, disconnected from biological life. Although Lunny was figured in some press reports as a corporate giant, he’s a family farmer, a neighbor and a vital member of our community.

Specifically, here in West Marin we have the opportunity to be a little more free of the burgeoning corporate food business and blessedly free of the corporate "fun" business of a Leisure World Theme Park. Handmade cheese and lettuce that doesn't kill the soil goes a long way in my book. Let's be a model of acting like an organism and feel our way through this. So, which side? What I’m for is creative solutions to our problems like Peggy Rathman and John Wick’s Marin Carbon Project. Lunny actually tried to DO something about the environment, raising food with sensitivity while doing an admirable of tidying up the mess at Johnson’s. Kumbaya? There are some scary forces at work, I’m just sayin’, “lovers of the biosphere Unite!”

Having just seen the terrific new movie Lincoln, I'm reflecting on the history of the passage of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery — how congressmen basically on the same side, were blocking passage because they weren't getting exactly what they wanted. And, how Lincoln was masterful at making a coalition to get the bill passed. And Lincoln, as a model for making tough legislation work was also a prescient follower of money interests. Before his presidency Lincoln was an early version of a corporate lawyer, defending the interests of the mushrooming corporations. His specialty was railroads so he knew the danger of the growing giants.

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
The passage appears in a letter from Lincoln to (Col.) William F. Elkins, Nov. 21, 1864

Today, we are poised at another history-changing moment, easily as momentous as ending slavery. It's clear our environmental problems need another Lincoln—our relationship to the natural world must be corrected or we're finished. And, maybe, in the end we can even get the vote for Harbor Seals.



Let's Dance




With the weekly back and forth contention over the fate of Drake’s Bay Oyster Company, splashed into our local papers, my wife Judith and I motored out to Drake’s Bay to see for ourselves. The parking lot was full—we counted 41 SUV’s & Trucks each with at least two gizmos for carrying kayaks and canoes to launch an armada of convivial paddlers. We surmised most were probably from the half dozen commercial outfitters making a living by getting people out on the water. It was a windless day on the estuary. We were glad to be away from the meager world of our glowing screens and out to the unbounded world of our Seashore. The tinny drift of Mexican music from radio speakers washed over a quartet of workers dressed up in rubber waders and safety gear. The four sat smoking, laughing, at a picnic table preparing for a day of tending the bivalves, and happy to have work. I ate my first west-coast oysters here when it was Johnson’s. That’d be 1974 when the place looked like a hillbilly junkyard. Today, since Lunny’s taken it over, it’s orderly—like a tidy, efficient working farm. The Estero, a blue sky-mirror, the autumn hills soft suede, is a place where hikers and boaters are drawn to the calm and oyster fishers are drawn to the fecundity of a pristine estuary—the meeting of two worlds, two worlds making a living from a beautiful place.

In the debate over the DBOC we’ve heard a lot from the rational realms of science and law, and while I can’t minimize the necessity for rational thought—really now, how much fun has all this been? On David Brower’s memorial website, Isaiah 9:3 is quoted—Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy. It was David Brower’s idea to instigate advocacy through the joy of beauty with the creation of the many Sierra Club Exhibit Format Books—books on the Point Reyes National Seashore, on Big Sur, the Redwoods—art books that became the benchmark for mass-market color reproduction, picture books that changed our world for the better.

Going back to cloudy recollections of Philosophy 101, I’m remembering that in The Republic, Plato famously proposed a banning of poetry—that the rational mind was the only way to run a society. But, David Brower knew it is pleasure that moves the body to action. In all of the contention over the DBOC, I feel it’s time for a bit of news from the arts, from the circus of the imagination. Putting things together that maybe don’t belong together; creating a little cognitive dissonance to reframe the story. The artist’s voice seems to have been missing from the arguments and this voice, while it has no answers, asks a lot of questions. What side am I on?

As I drifted into sleep after our DBOC sojourn, I was reading David Brower’s essay from the 1965 Sierra Club book Not Man Apart and in that hypnagogic space charged by Brower’s ideals I had this preposterous vision of two Harbor Seals hauled out and laying on a beach of Drake’s Estero talking like Samuel Becket’s Vladimir and Estragon …

—Bart? Bart, (I think of all seals being named Bart—so easy for them to say). Bart? You up?
—Am now, Bart, what’s up?
—Well, you’re the history buff around here, what happened to the people? I mean they used to come here in all kinds of boats. ‘Bout to give me a heart attack with all that sneakin’ around in kayaks, and the motorboats with that ruckus…
—You know kayaks were invented way up north just to sneak up on seals, (freakish things for a Pinneped). Where’d the people go?…? Paper killed ‘em.
—Paper?
—Yep, they started out murdering each other with sticks and rocks, then swords, then guns and finally paper. Yep, it was legal briefs and EIR reports finally did ‘em in. They just strangled each other with paper. All that paper was expensive. Kept a lot of legal eagles in business and the report churners crankin’ it out, —but finally, they just choked on all the paper…

Then as I continued my reverie in the dark, I thought about the seals—and some lines came through from Things Floating in Air a poem I wrote years ago, September 11th 2001, on a walk to Abbotts Lagoon.

The thing that terrorized me most,
Wasn’t the trauma of barbarous airliners.
It was the confetti of papers
Papers flying around the towers before they fell,
A glittery storm, a million million pages
Swirling in a slow-waltz
Through the smoke and updraft
Dancing the banality of daily life,
Blown to a snowstorm inside
The crystal souvenir ball
Of our TV sets.

It seems the either-or options of getting rid of DBOC or establishing a wilderness is a zero-sum game. I’ve been refreshed and inspired by the wilderness of Point Reyes and I’m happy that over 20% of our food eaten in Marin County, comes from Marin County—a lot from the pastoral lands of the Seashore. My wife Judith and I think of the PRNSS as our backyard and as such have been tidying up Kehoe Beach, picking up plastic debris, going on to fourteen years now and making artwork with what we collect. We’ve collected tons of it and from just 1000 yards trying to make a graspable metric. We’ve shown our artwork all over the US and from Singapore to Zürich. Most recently we’ve been commissioned by the Oakland Museum to make a permanent exhibit on plastic pollution for the new Cordell Bank section. Last summer we were the cover story in National Parks magazine. We feel humbled and gratified by the attention. Lucky us, to have found a way to make an impact about this important issue. And as artists, we like the idea of sneaking up on people with visual good humor without the stridency and polemic we find so abundant in what passes for discourse these days. We’re having fun, big time.

I’ve been on both sides of the issue. Wilderness, yes! Good food, yes! A couple of years ago, for an art installation in San Francisco about plastic pollution we got help from Larkin Street Youth Services—kids at risk, homeless—street kids. They were focused and added a lot of great ideas to the project. As a reward we took a couple of vans and a couple of cars and loaded them out to Kehoe Beach. On the way one kid said, “Wow that’s a real cow. THEY MILK THEM? I thought that stuff came from the store…!” On the way back, quiet, worn-out and reflective, another kid said,  “I love this, I never knew the world was beautiful.”

As I drift toward sleep, I think of my Waiting for Godot seals, Bart says to Bart:

—You know what I miss?
—What, Bart?
—I miss that music they played at Lunny’s. I was crazy about that Latin sound, ‘specially corridos, so sad, so cheesy, but those songs always got to me especially on a Sunday.

So let’s start with a fresh slant. Lets stop using the pure rationality of Law and Science as a cudgel, let’s start writing a heartfelt corrido of loss and gain, of heroic action and human stumbles. Let’s stop thinking of winners and losers. Let’s Dance!  Yes, we can-can.

Letter to the editor published in the West Marin Citizen 11/15/12