French Impressionist Edgar Degas once stated, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
While the late-19th century artist captured ballerinas in traditional mediums, Washed Ashore Founder and Creative Director Angela Haseltine Pozzi takes the meaning behind the phrase in a more literal sense.
The Oregon native and a community of volunteers work diligently on a daily basis to collect plastic waste of all shapes and sizes to make sea creatures that tower over curious museum-goers in a traveling art exhibit.
"What if I only use what's here?” she tells Waste360, giving some insight into her work. “And what if I just get everybody to help clean up the beaches and show people? What's the real stuff that's really washing up in a way that they can't ignore it? And what if we can teach them about what's happening and change their consumer habits. So that's what I started out to do."
In 2010, Haseltine Pozzi noticed the overabundance of plastic waste on the shores of her small town of Bandon, Ore. At that point, the art teacher of 30 years couldn’t bring herself to buy another art supply. She began to collect plastic bags, bottles and other waste from the beach and sculpted what turned into gigantic statements about the state of ocean pollution.
“I wanted to make these things so that they are huge, and they could be outside,” she explains. “And we wire everything together. We don't use glue. We wire and screw everything together and use metal frames. And we basically made 13 sculptures in the first six months and started the traveling exhibit.”
Haseltine Pozzi rallied the Oregon community through workshops and visits to Rotary clubs, Lions Clubs, churches and anyone that wanted to learn more about cleaning up the oceans right in their backyard.
From penguins to sharks to jellyfish and coral reefs, each sculpture takes a meticulous approach not only to build and to gather the right plastic waste to incorporate into each piece. None of the sea creatures in Washed Ashore are painted. Each maintains its original plastic color, which takes some time, sometimes years, and manpower to collect.
“We don't color or dye any of the plastic,” Haseltine Pozzi says. "We just use what washes up on the beach. It comes in every color you've ever imagined, and that's one reason we have so much of it. Sometimes it takes a long time to just collect enough of a certain color to make an animal. A sea lion may take me four years to get enough brown plastic to actually be able to do that.”
On average, one sculpture takes about six to eight months to build, not counting the collection process. Washed Ashore has established partnerships with Oregon State Parks up and down the 300 miles of coastline in the state. The nonprofit project, which is part of the grassroots Artula Institute for Art and Environmental Education, also collaborates with the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management and other individuals dedicated to cleaning up state beaches.
“We've processed about 28 tons of garbage now into all of those [sculptures], spent thousands and thousands of hours on foot with 14,000 volunteers have worked with us in the last 10 years,” she says.
Common household items such as lighters and toothbrushes are easy finds. Because plastic absorbs odors, volunteers often discover bite marks in ocean plastic from marine life.
“The most disturbing items that we get quite often are bottles with big bite marks and fish,” Haseltine Pozzi comments. “There's evidence right there that the fish are eating this stuff. And so, it makes gives you more reason to do your work here like that.”
The problem that was the catalyst is that plastic is a very “seductive material,” and humans are attracted to “colorful, beautiful things,” she says. Because it is so versatile, people are more likely to purchase a product in a bright color versus the earth tones of biodegradable materials. Humans need to be reeducated to see the beauty in naturally tinted items.
“I think that we have to invest in all the innovations that are coming up, that are alternatives to plastic,” Haseltine Pozzi continues. “There are biodegradable materials that are strong and durable, that can reduce the use of plastics. I always say reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink and reinvest.”
She adds that new innovations also have to be more profitable than plastics in conjunction with training and educating people about environmentally friendly options.
“We're a very smart species, and we can work our way out of it,” Haseltine Pozzi concludes. “We just have to make the alternatives profitable, and we'll get out of it. And people are motivated to try new things and make a difference.”
Washed Ashore exhibit locations are available at the project's website. View the slideshow to have a sneak peek of some of the sea creatures currently on display.