Monday, May 05, 2014

3 views of trash: sea (tsunami & islands)

from Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers II project

Bonnie Louise Monteleone & the Plastic Ocean Project

detail from Basurama’s Trash Tsunami in Santo Domingo, DR

Of course, there's always a darker, less sanitized side to this trash business, too. For example, Chris Jordan explores this from about the starkest, most direct angle possible: in situ photos of decomposing albatross carcasses, dead of starvation having filled their bellies with inedible sea plastics.

This is from his Midway project, shot in the general neighborhood of the infamous pacific trash vortex. (Also known affectionately as the great pacific garbage patch, more wishfully as the plastic beach, or, simply, "the gyre.")  Here at Midway Atoll, this includes Albatross chicks who are fed small pieces of plastic by unsuspecting parents, eventually killing them. This is a series with far too many photos. And if we're talking about taking plastics and other chemical toxins into our bodies, we know that albatrosses are certainly not alone as a species in this.

Like many, I think there are serious problems with aesthetizing waste and toxicity. Jordan nods to some of this on Midway, and on earlier projects, like his Intolerable Beauty. But you see this ambivalence in that Gorillaz album, for example, as Murdoc describes his discovery of the "plastic beach." And you see it in people's attempts to describe these places and phenomena. Like where surfer Tim Silverwood explains: "I was frolicking in cinematic heaven before quickly being swamped by a feeling of being delivered into a postcard of oceanic hell."

Are these boldly aesthicized (and fetishized?) representations worth the strategic risks of normalizing trash? Of making it seem benign, or even beautiful? Are they necessary and inevitable points along the arc of our realizing long-ignored horrors? Drawing us through understandings of "litter" as less an ecological problem than an aesthetic one, but then flipping this to reckon with the larger scales of consumerism, waste, and toxicity as massive "environmental" and public health crises?

No comments: