The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

May 29, 2009

Let Them Eat Plastic: SMART Art – Trash Into Treasure

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.

(Please click on all images to see larger versions. The small size does not do them justice!)

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 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!


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Etsy handmade and vintage

I only post ads for companies I patronize myself. Your support helps to fund my plastic-free mission.

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9 years ago
Beth Terry
14 years ago

Martin, fantastic! I added your site to the “Art & MultiMedia” page on this site:

Thank you for sharing your work with us.


martin waters
14 years ago

just thought you may like the detritus artwork on my website

Beth Terry
14 years ago

Amanda, I love your art! What a great statement. And I love that your fish actually still look like plastic bags.

I actually knitted a fake plastic fish from plastic grocery bags, but I'm not sure it makes the same powerful statement:


Your bluebottle is gorgeous.

Have you see this poster from Surfrider's Rise Against Plastics campaign? It kind of reminds me of your work.

14 years ago

Thanks for posting those great photos, what a fantastic exhibition, always good to see what other artists are doing. I thought you might like to check out my plastic bag fish …

14 years ago

I want to add a link to an Australian artist's quite beautiful plastic bag art, for anyone who's interested:
Beth, I've been checking in on your site for about a year now and I'm glad you're fighting this fight. It helps keep me motivated to reduce my use of plastic. I am starting to hear from others about the huge plastic "continent" floating in the Pacific. The good thing about this is that now I'm not the one informing others about it.

Crafty Green Poet
14 years ago

looks like a brilliant event! Great ideas to recycle waste.

14 years ago

For Canadians to stop junk mail:

14 years ago

Cool art! And, while perhaps not practical to wear to work, I like the plastic dress. Speaking of Project Runway, Wyndham hotels is being recognized with environmental awards for outfitting their employees in suits/uniforms spun from recycled plastic — mostly beverage bottles. Link:

14 years ago

I really like the tree stuffed into an open mailbox flanked with mail.
I stopped almost all of my junkmail, we still get our bills though… – for most companies it is easy to stop the catalogs though. I just call the 1800 number and ask to be taken off of the list.

Harriete Estel Berman
14 years ago

Thanks for including my grass/gras’ sculpture in your blog.

Harriete Estel Berman

Green Fundraising
14 years ago

Wow! I loved all the pieces, but the wave was my personal favorite, too. Great stuff!

John costigane
14 years ago

Hi Beth,

A great topic with better uses for useless plastic packaging waste.

Highlighting Junk Mail, and the DMA mob, echoes efforts here in the UK. The days of unthinking waste practices are numbered.

14 years ago

The wave was totally tubular!! I want to see this exhibit! I also hereby dub all of Beth’s groupies, “Fish Heads”.

14 years ago

We fishermen and women of fake plastic should take up a collection to pay you for that camera you just bought camera – you do a great job documenting what you see.

14 years ago

It was great meeting you last night, and you took some great pictures of the artwork! I also got some pictures of the art pieces and posted them on my blog at

Myscha Theriault
14 years ago

Good one! I love the wave piece too. They were all cool, though.