Posted in chemistry, design and architecture, museum

Playing with plastic art for a scientific cause

From The Scientist, discussing an art installation bringing attention the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:

Early last year, Anna Hepler, a Portland, Maine installation artist, filled a gallery with undulating layers of woven plastic. The rich, latticed structure hung from the walls in the shape of a ship’s hull…the structure — so large that visitors of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, where the exhibit was on display, had to crouch to pass underneath it — was more than just a new exhibit from the acclaimed visual artist. It was created entirely with recycled plastics in response to scientists’ exploration of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The garbage patch swirls 1000 miles from the California coast in a convergence of currents known as the North Pacific Gyre. As trash floats towards the gyre, it gets sucked into the calm center of the vortex and accumulates there. Decades of non-biodegradable plastics washed into the ocean from Asia and North America are pulled into the huge eddy, forming a floating landfill about the size of Texas. Other ocean gyres scattered across the globe have similar marine wastelands at their centers.

In the past few years, scientists have traveled to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to study the chemical interactions between marine life and the debris and to test methods of collecting the trash.

Intrigued by the artistic potential of plastic for years, Hepler knew she wanted to experiment with the material, and agreed to do a room-sized installation using plastic for the Rockport, Maine gallery. Her first stop was Home Depot, for sheets of plastic she could rip up. But as she worked on the project she started hearing about the floating landfill in the Pacific Ocean. “It was insane to think about buying virgin sheet plastic and adding to the problem,” she said. “So, I headed to my local salvage yard instead and managed to get more than half of my materials in one run.”

Since creating the structure, named “Gyre” and measuring approximately 45 feet long by 15 feet wide, Hepler has continued to work with recycled plastics. “Plastic’s color and translucency had always fascinated me,” she said. “And once I embark on work with certain materials, I like to see where it takes me.”

Read full article and see images from exhibit (free registration required to read full story).



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.