Pam Longobardi calls her art “Interventions.” She spends many hours gathering up plastic trash from the world’s beaches and bringing it into galleries where it can be positioned, examined, seen. Her current expedition, Drifters Project Kefalonia: The Giant Sea Cave Excavation, was inspired by a heartbreakingly poignant discovery she made last summer in Kefalonia, Greece. The story and photos made me cry today, so I wanted to share them with you. Here it is, in Pam’s own words.
In July 2011, working on my Drifters Project phase I: One World Ocean, I went to a remote beach by boat with a local fisherman. He described this beach as having some of the most debris on the island. It was spectacularly beautiful, but even from the crystalline water 100 yards offshore, I could see the telltale signs of plastic impact.
The amazing feature of this beach were the sea caves visible in the right hand side of the image. I swam in to shore and began to collect the plastic garbage, filling several large bags in just a short time. I then crossed the sharp rocky divide that separated the beach from the caves and was stunned when I looked inside: the caves were stuffed with innumerable pieces of plastic, nets, styrofoam and yes, right on top, the NUMBER ONE symbolic plastic disgust object: a toilet seat. If there was ever a clearer image of the plastic crap we have inflicted on our world, I don’t know what that would be.
I crawled into the very small and claustrophobic space and began throwing all the junk to the mouth of the cave so I could gather it up and remove it. By the time I reached the back of the tiny narrow cave, I was laying on my stomach, in a space only 20 inches in height, 30 feet in, and completely surrounded by the plastic that stormy seas had shoved in there for decades and decades.
The contents of the cave were a stratigraphy of consumer culture: water bottles, containers, net floats, hundreds of styrofoam chunks and many shoes, an veritable chronology of footwear from the 70s vinyl mega platforms to today’s plastic flip-flop-crocs in every color. And then, I made a discovery that brought tears to my eyes: at the very back of the cave, was a goat skull and the bell collar shepherds place around their necks so they can gather them and herd them and keep them safe.
I love the goats and sheep in Greece and the gentle shepherds that spend their days alongside them. The collar is much like a collar we put on a dog or a cat, in other words, for a pet. The goats and sheep that give us the amazing feta cheese and yogurts of Greece, and the people that care for these animals are an example of the positive symbiotic relationship that humans can have with animals… Animals who spend their days wandering freely, nibbling scrubby brush and olive trees, protected from harm of speeding cars on the windy roads by their shepherds.
Realizing that I was in the grave of a particular goat that had once been someone’s cared-for animal, and that was now in a grave of plastic, gave me an eerie sense of dread and deep sadness. WIth this inspiration, I created the Sea Cave/Goat Grave in the gallery last year, an exhibition of large scale sculptures and installations, to shine a light on this state we are in. And I vowed to return this year and excavate the more massive cave I found at Liakas, to tell the stories of our civilization’s recent past that we might reconfigure the future, and The Giant Sea Cave Excavation 2012 was born.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which I’ll post here after a team of swimmers have excavated the giant sea cave. You can keep up with Pam and her progress and view photos of the project on her blog, Driftwebs.