Ocean pollution is a highly debated topic, within traditional politics, on social media and through popular culture, as demonstrated by David Attenborough’s BBC Blue Planet documentary. We are all becoming aware of the dangers of pollution, from the impact to marine environments to irreversible damage to ecosystems, images of plastic in our oceans are everywhere. In what appears to be an undoubtedly negative situation, groups of people are using these ocean ‘resources’ to raise awareness, produce art and start businesses. Creating art out of otherwise worthless items in the ocean is a new way of engaging with what is increasingly becoming a pressurised global political situation.
Using pollution art as a political statement with the purpose of increasing awareness is not a new concept, as the UN highlights people have been using art to overcome the gap between problem and action for centuries. Wagner-Lawlor outlines how Nigeria is using its pollution problem to negotiate its own modern identity through incorporating traditional forms of object making with the modern issue of plastic pollution. This concept can be applied more specifically to the problems surrounding marine pollution; an example of this can be seen in Bruges, Belgium with the installation of the sky scraper whale sculpture. Using over 5 tonnes of plastic waste from the surface of the Pacific Ocean, the project aim was to demonstrate the size and scale of plastic pollution through producing a large-scale installation. It was also designed as an educational tool; Philips highlights how indigenous communities are using art work produced from ocean pollution to educate others around the dangers of ‘ghost gear’ and other industrial forms of pollution in the Indigenous art gallery of the Australian Museum. Attracting tourists and raising awareness, sculptures are a clear example of how ocean pollution can not only be used as a political statement but also as an art form.
The multidimensional nature of ocean pollution as art has particular relevance when talking about potential commercial uses. One of the most obvious examples of this is sea glass; found across the globe sea glass is remnants of man-made glass deposited in the ocean. Sea glass artwork has become the foundation of many small businesses with companies setting up shops on websites such as Etsy. In many ways, much like statement pollution art pieces, this form of creating something out of what most people consider ‘rubbish’ engages with wider work considering the role of the geographical imagination within the cultural practices of turning ‘trash into cash’. This form of pollution art allows people to engage with the sea on a local, everyday basis, bringing the sea and issues of pollution into people’s consciousness.
Viewing ocean pollution as an art form provides a new platform for engaging and interacting with the sea; providing visual statements into what can be considered a hidden issue. The concept of ocean pollution art brings up the question of whether considering different perspectives on such a highly contested and integrally political issue is part of the solution.