Everywhere: Life in a littered world

red heart - green heart, D. Taylor

Litter is everywhere. It is on country lanes and city streets, washed up in polar regions and deposited on mountains as particles present in ‘plastic rain’. It can be so small it needs to be viewed through a microscope and so large that its true scale can only be understood through satellite imagery. It’s the coffee cup in the hedge and the Pacific garbage patch.

This online exhibition presented works by international artists who explore everyday practices of littering and consider its effects. It asked: What might the future look like in our littered world? Are there ways that humans, animals and plants can co-exist with or even prosper amongst the rubbish? And what will it take to clean up our act?

Everywhere was launched alongside the international conference MICRO2020 which explored the fate and impacts of microplastics in the environment.

Artists: Mandy Barker, John Darwell, Diana Lelonek, Kai Löffelbein, Peter Nencini, Tejal Shah, D. TaylorPinar Yoldas.

Curated by Joanne Lee and Rosemary Shirley for The Arts Institute, and delivered in partnership with The Box.

Mandy Barker
INDEFINITE and SHELF-LIFE

The work of photographer Mandy Barker alerts us to the geographical and chronological reach of marine litter, as well as its devastating effects on animals and habitats.
The colours and forms in Barker’s Indefinite series are reminiscent of sea creatures but these are pieces of man-made waste found on the shore. The series estimates how long these plastics will take to degrade in the sea, however as Barker notes, recent research shows that most conventional plastic never actually degrades, rather it simply breaks down into ever smaller micro-plastic particles that will be with us indefinitely.
John Darwell
DDSBs

John Darwell has been photographing what he terms DDSBs (an acronym for discarded dog poo bags) since 2007, first of all as he encountered them in the UK, and subsequently as he travelled internationally. His sustained attention to the subject has produced a typology of sorts, showing that dog walkers in Western Australia tend to favour yellow bags, whilst those in Germany prefer red, and also revealing that whatever the country, the places these bags end up are much the same. A relatively recent littering phenomenon, it suggests that people are keen to be seen to do the right thing – picking up their dog waste – but habitually fail to carry through this action to proper disposal, and makes evident how attempts to deal with one problem often have unintended and enduring consequences.
Diana Lelonek
Center for Living Things

Diana Lelonek’s Center for Living Things investigates the natural-artificial complexity of an illegal dumping site in Poland. A curious botanical explorer, Lelonek collects as specimens a series of discarded objects colonised by plants and mosses. These abject, broken materials, the result of goods or packaging now unwanted by humans, have provided microhabitats which anchor and shelter the growth of seedlings. Careful photographic attention produces tableaux that echo elegant Ikebana arrangements and scholar’s stones: these miniature landscapes allow us to contemplate what we cast out and to consider what life might be enabled or damaged as a result. The intimate images are augmented by a series of Google Streetview tours, which invite us to step back and navigate the greater scale of littered land.
Kai Löffelbein
CTRL-X

Kai Löffelbein’s exploration of the Chinese city of Guiyo documents the international transportation and re-processing of so-called ‘e-waste’, the computers, tablets, mobile phones, old screens and monitors discarded as unwanted or now defunct. The volume of such waste is increasing now that product life-cycles are shortened with relentless development and marketing: the average mobile phone is now used for less than 18 months. Rather than being recycled in Europe and the USA, e-waste is shipped abroad, described as ‘second-hand goods’ in order to circumvent the Basel Convention which prohibits hazardous waste being moved off-shore. Titled Ctrl-X after the shortcut familiar to keyboard users, which allows the seamless cutting and pasting of digital materials from one place to another, Löffelbein’s study makes clear the global reach of this traffic and reveals the persistent materiality of the goods we once cherished but have now put aside.
Peter Nencini
Feed in Haste but Digest at Leisure

Peter Nencini’s visual sequence starts from the meeting between a plastic bag and a snail and goes on to construct a constellation of images which range in scale from the micro-encounter to the machinations of global capitalism. The images and their relationships explore the intertwining of human and non-human, consumption and waste, production and reproduction. The discarded ‘bag for life’ is temporarily occupied by the snail and the Fibonacci spiral of its shell mirrors in turn the curved form of a prosaic sausage roll, once produced by Guy the Morrisons baker whose name badge and dismembered image forms part of the bag’s design. When further scrutinised, this design reveals itself as a deconstructed dandelion and a wholesome countrified gingham, bringing us back once again to the hedgerow or grass verge where such items are so frequently discarded.
Tejal Shah
Landfill Dance

In Tejal Shah’s video, a group of white clad women perform amidst the human-made landscape of a landfill site. Dressed in costumes patterned with printed cockroaches and adorned with fancy accessories made from found materials, their performance is a kind of fable, one which tries to imagine a new cosmology for dwelling amidst the mess we humans have made. The dancers move slowly through the tangled complexity of the site, behind which rises high rise buildings and urban sprawl. The birds that hover and swoop, the flapping of loose material atop huge waste mounds and the swirling eddies of dust that rise and dissipate all become integral parts of the work’s choreography. When archaeologists of the future come to excavate this site, perhaps they will wonder what rituals might have accompanied our relationship with so much muddled matter.
D. Taylor
///divination through the study of litter///

D.Taylor records the familiar yet strangely unidentifiable fragments of litter often encountered in everyday life. Shown in image pairs to which are ascribed esoteric titles, this mundane flotsam hints at unknown worlds lurking beyond the streets on which they occur. Words and numbers shift context, forms echo or contradict, and twisted string and plastic become letters from unfathomable languages which spell out unexpected or disturbing messages. Here, litter is a scrying medium for those who know how to read it. Perhaps a particular fate will be told by the way knots or dismembered hanks have fallen to the ground? Perhaps the future might be divined in the conjunction of a black triangle and a blue loop?
Pinar Yoldas
Ecosystem of Excess

If life started today in our plastic debris filled oceans, what kinds of life forms would emerge out of this contemporary primordial ooze? This was the question that inspired Pinar Yoldas to create the Ecosystem of Excess. Here she imagines The Plastisphere, a world in which life forms have evolved to incorporate consumer plastic waste into their physiognomy; from birds whose plumage mimics the colours of bottle caps to turtles who, after eating balloons for eons, have developed the ability to inflate and deflate. Influenced by recent scientific discoveries such as plastic-eating bacteria, Yoldas envisages a series of internal organs designed to sense or digest these materials, enabling life forms not only to survive but even perhaps thrive in a radically polluted post-human future.
Animal Condensed by Jennet Thomas, Revolutionary Inventions season, 2018

Animal Condensed by Jennet Thomas, Revolutionary Inventions season, 2018