If Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake,” back in the 18th Century, I wonder what she’d say now confronted with sea birds and turtles starving on our plastic waste. Such were the kinds of thoughts I had last night viewing the new exhibit, SMART Art — Trash Into Treasure, at the Lincart Gallery in San Francisco. A project of David de Rothschild’s Adventure Ecology Sculpt the Future Foundation, the SMART Art competition invited artists to show the world how discarded objects could be reused and reimagined into works of art. Tim Dey’s “Ghost of Versailles” was one of those entries. Made from used plastic packing supplies, bubble wrap, drop cloths, aquarium tubing, and soda bottle bottoms, his costume put my Bay to Breakers Sea Monster to shame.
But personally, I was rooting for the work of plastics activist surfer and new friend Kathleen Egan’s “Plastic Wave.” Made from plastic collected from her friends for two weeks, the wave is her personal statement about plastic in our oceans.
Check out Kathleen’s video about creating the wave and about the kinds of plastic that surfers find on our beaches.
Unfortunately, Kathleen’s piece did not win. There was some stiff competition from other trash artists. First place was awarded by the panel of judges, which included de Rothschild as well as The Story of Stuff‘s Annie Leonard and WiserEarth’s Paul Hawken among others, to Harriete Estel Berman for “Grass’gras,” a “lawn of grass” created from repurposed metal cans. Yes, it’s sharp, and is a statement about the environmental impacts of our consumer culture and desire for green lawns.
Second place was awarded for my other favorite piece, “Certain is Nothing Now,” an ethereal creation made from junk mail collected by artist Julia Goodman from her neighbors over the course of a year.
And besides this visually stunning statement about junk mail, the exhibit included ForestEthics‘s petition calling for a National Do Not Mail registry. As someone who has been trying to reduce my own paper mail for the last two years, I was more than happy to add my name, and I urge you all to do so as well. Please visit DoNotMail.org to add your signature. While there are organizations set up to help us get off mailing lists, companies are not under any obligation to honor third party requests and may actually be discouraged from doing so by the Direct Mail Association. We need governmental support to help us cut down on the paper and plastic waste associated with unwanted mail.
Third place was awarded to Scott Oliver for “The Valley,” a landscape seemingly dreamed up out of the seat of an old chair. According to the artist, “The Valley” is Hetch Hetchy Valley (here in California) “before it was dammed and flooded in 1923 to provide fresh water for San Franciscans.” Reminds me of the haunting Polish Brothers film Northfork, one of the few I’ve loved enough to own.
Like much of the work in this exhibit, “The Valley” leaves me both saddened by the waste and awed by the transformative power of the human imagination. The following piece, on the other hand, just tickles me.
The dress, worn by exhibit coordinator Heidi Quante during the evening, was created by Drew Kleiner out of use bicycle tire tubes and air gaskets. It’s got Project Runway written all over it, doncha think?
And finally, I was happy to meet up again with Anna Cummins and Marcus Eriksen, who made this exhibit one of the stops on their JunkRide bicycle journey from Vancouver to Tijuana to spread the word about plastics in the ocean. For Anna and Marcus, their lives ARE their art! Here they are with one of the samples of plastic-filled water from the North Pacific Gyre they are handing out to educators and elected officials on their way down the coast. They are hoping to get one to SF Mayor Gavin Newsome before they leave the Bay Area. I hope they succeed!