We came to Bandon, Oregon because of Angela Haseltine Pozzi. Since we didn’t write down her address and she had never heard of us, we weren’t sure how to find her. Luckily, she had placed two of her ten foot sculptures on main street.
Angela builds sea creatures out of plastic that washes ashore on West Coast beaches. You might be surprised at what washes up; in her sculptures we saw: Yosemite Sam Mud Flaps, the soles of shoes and boots, shovels, bottles, caps, lids, a “Re-fill don’t landfill” water bottle, nylon robes and strings, Styrofoam, buoys and many other items.
Litter has gotten a bad name since the 1970s, and most people are on that bandwagon, but only as far as the edge of the land. The ocean is the ultimate ‘away’: it’s big, it’s really big, and almost everything ends up there. So far we’ve been visiting places where we meant our garbage to go, even if we didn’t like the thought of it going there (landfills and incinerators). But the Washed Ashore Project reveals how the ocean has become a huge, accidental away.
In groups and on their own, people collect the debris that washes ashore and bring it to be cleaned, sorted, drilled, cut and processed into art supplies. The sculptures themselves are assembled through the work of many hands in open art workshops, making Washed Ashore something of a working exhibit. It helps that Angela was an art teacher for 30 years before starting Washed Ashore so the sculptures don’t end up lopsided like they would if I was in charge.
The exhibit is pretty incredible. Margaret and I were lucky enough to arrive just as the exhibit was opening for an evening sorting session. We wondered around these gigantic plastic creations in golden sunset light. Angela emphasizes the physicality of what she makes: you can walk through the green plastic dangling gyre, you can tap out a tune on the glass bottles embedded in the starfish; you can spin the sea jellies, and drum on the styrofoam corals.
The spirit behind the Washed Ashore Project is that every action counts. Each piece has a sign next to it with suggestions for decreasing that amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. These range from the specific and practical (cut plastic loops and rings before throwing them away so animals won’t get caught in them) to the more abstract (educate yourself about the perils of plastic).
According to Washed Ashore, “Over 11 million tons of plastic fill the North Pacific Gyre,” and “80% of marine debris comes from land via streets, storm drains, and rivers.” Captain Charles Moore, a marine researcher, says plastic caught in his nets outweigh zooplankton by a factor of six to one.
There are many reasons why plastic is not the best substance to have floating in the ocean, but some of the primary ones are: animals confuse the plastic for food and eat it but are unable to digest it, filling their bellies with plastic until they starve; chemicals in many plastics act as endocrine disruptors; toxins from plastics enter the food chain; and animals get trapped in the larger bits of plastic and are unable to escape.
Henry the Fish, Avery the Bird, and Lidia the Seal have toured up and down the west coast and are housed in Bandon for the rest of 2013.