On an isolated stretch of Western Australian beach, artist Tim Pearn creates works from washed-up plastic waste collected over the course of a year on Albany’s Goode beach. The resulting artworks, both beautiful and disturbing, are on show during the Great Southern festival, part of the 2015 Perth festival.
The Great Southern conjures images of pristine coastline and unspoilt beaches. The Western Australian artist is challenging this picture by sculpting with artificial materials found on an Albany beach.40 beach walks. 40 bags of plastic rubbish. That’s all it took for Pearn to collect enough material for his exhibition, On the Beach.
Featuring sculpture, photography and video work, the display uses plastics collected from Goode Beach to create eerily beautiful images of artificial materials in the natural environment.
“I lived on Goode Beach for over a year and started to notice little, tiny specs of plastic and started collecting it. I was amazed how every time I walked down the beach I could pick up a small bag,” says Mr Pearn.
Speaking to the ABC Great Southern Morning show, the artist was struck by the sheer volume of waste he encountered on his regular walks.
“I started picking up stuff to throw away and it just kept coming and kept coming. I started to think ‘What could I do with this?’ and I was amazed that it never stopped really”.
Mr Pearn hopes that his exhibition will draw attention the problem of plastic pollutants.
“It really is a provocative exhibition. I think we’re being very irresponsible in how we use plastic. It’s very useful material if it’s used properly, but we’re really having an awful impact on the environment,” he said.
“The impact of plastic waste is affecting us severely in the Great Southern like everywhere else.”
No place left untouched
Dr Jennifer Lavers knows more about ocean plastics than the average beach goer. A marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, Hobart, she has spent considerable time researching the impact of plastic pollutants on marine birds in the Great Southern.
Dr Lavers says the problem cannot be understated.
“It’s absolutely everywhere. Nowhere is immune. From the top of the world to the bottom, from the Antarctic to the Arctic, plastic is absolutely everywhere.”
Dr Lavers studies the health of marine birds, including local mutton birds, to paint a picture of the health of the ocean.
“Seabirds are really reliable indicators to gather the data that we need of what’s happening,” she said.
Ocean plastics feature heavily in her research.
“It’s the main component of what I work on,” said Dr Lavers, who considers the pollutants one of the biggest threats to the environment.
Her research has demonstrated the biological impact of plastic pollutants ingested by ocean birds.
“Once ingested, more toxins such as mercury and arsenic can be found in the bird tissues.”
“The ability of plastic to act as a vector for pollutants is accepted.”
Ocean plastics in humans?
If plastic pollutants are being ingested by marine life, could this be impacting humans higher up on the food chain?
“That’s the million dollar question. That has not yet been proven, but there are various lines of evidence that are moving in that direction,” said Dr Lavers.
“Whilst no one has made a direct link, other independent lines of evidence are quite strong and suggest that we should be worried,” she said.
On the Beach is showing the Western Australian Museum, Albany until March 7, as a part of the Great Southern Festival 2015.