In 2020, Canadian Geographic pioneered their 10,000 Changes program to bring national attention to the drastic impact that plastic waste has on the planet. As part of the initiative, five artists were commissioned to create five artworks reflecting this goal.
Artist Hilde Lambrecht was selected for the first piece, resulting in the creation of Blue Fin Tuna. Using plastic garbage she collected from a beach in Belgium, Lambrechts created a massive tuna to symbolise the plight facing many marine animals. She wanted her piece to reflect the depletion of marine food sources as well as the plastic contamination in marine food and oceans.
Lambrecht also pays homage to the importance of the marine food chain, and the devastating effect that humans have on it. “Bluefin tuna are overfished globally, which I acknowledged by hanging the individual components from plastic fishing wire,” she told Canadian Geographic. The artist is largely self-taught, and holds a PhD in biology.
The second piece is a collection of hanging sculptures entitled Something Useful, the work of Rebecca Jane Houston. The artist gathered plastic trash and debris from the Humber Bay shore in Toronto as part of an exercise echoing how animals gather litter to create useful objects. Part of wildlife’s struggle to survive amidst the tons of plastic waste we have produced involves adaptation. Houston wanted to use her piece to demonstrate how animals are forced to evolve to an environment we created, yet they still manage to create something useful out of the debris.
Houston was motivated by a deep appreciation for natural beauty. “The plastics can never be removed; we can’t take them back. But we have to keep trying to hope, to push for change, to play and to love the life of the lake,” she states.
The third installation, Flow by Katharine Harvey, highlights the magical elements of water and light. Harvey has made 20 similar pieces, delicately crafting a sculpture that appears alluring from a distance, but upon closer observation reveals a collection of dirty plastic waste. Harvey’s installations serve as a way to educate viewers about the importance of recycling and the dangers of consumer excess.
“It is a strange disconnect, to be enticed by a beautiful object only to acknowledge it is environmentally harmful,” says Harvey. “This piece, part of a larger series, speaks to the growing awareness about climate change.”
Using debris collected on the shore of Vancouver Island, Pete Clarkson created the fourth installation entitled Oil and Water. Clarkson views plastic pollution in the ocean as a gigantic, omnipresent oil spill. Inspired by the pervasive effects of oil-based plastic pollution, the artist created an installation that reflected the objects that he sourced exactly as they were found. Clarkson also included a friend’s carving, a small raven shaped from a flip flop. The sandal washed ashore after a shipping container spilled them into the Pacific in the 1990s, and since then have appeared on beaches all over the world.
Clarkson has collected over a hundred of these sandals. “They speak to the longevity of plastic and its presence throughout the world’s oceans,” he explains.
“They also remind me that the old adage still holds — oil and water just don’t mix”
The final piece, Emergence by Kerry Hodgson, represents a global cultural emergence from our dependence on plastic products. Hodgson used her canvas to envision a future in which humankind no longer relies on plastic bags or other plastic items in everyday life. Emergence is specific to the prevalence of single-use plastic bags, with some Canadian provinces implementing bans. The acrylic painting was created across two canvases, with the figure in the center emerging from plastic bags that the artist collected then ironed onto her work. The recycled bags create texture and movement, underscoring her ideological message.
Learn more about the 10,000 Changes project here.