A Global Ocean Tragedy

Marine Debris

In our very first blog post on February 11, 2013, I referred to the vast amounts of debris that has washed ashore off the coast of Alaska and been identified as remnants from the 2011 Japanese tsunami.  But marine debris is by no means confined to Alaska’s waterfront or the result of a single event.  All of the world’s oceans and coastlines are inundated with trash, much of which is discarded plastic sweeping into the habitats of millions of animals and dramatically impacting our natural environment.

 Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from the Japanese Tsunami, 2013

Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from the Japanese Tsunami, 2013

“Gyre: The Plastic Ocean”

In an effort to call attention to what they refer to as “a global ocean tragedy,” The Alaska Sea Life Center and the Anchorage Museum have partnered to develop an innovative exhibition entitled, “Gyre: The Plastic Ocean.”  Twenty one artists from around the world were invited to participate in an expedition that combined scientific exploration with the creation of art incorporating ocean trash that they collected along the coast of South Central Alaska during the voyage. The term, ‘gyre,’ in the exhibition’s title signifies the large, swirling vortexes within the oceans that propel and disperse the debris worldwide.

Here are some images from the Gyre sea voyage showing the massive clean-up effort and the beginnings of the works of art that resulted from it.

 Gyre Artist Developing a Composition of Trash

Gyre Artist Developing a Composition of Trash

 Image of the Variety of Plastic Trash Found on the Expedition

Image of the Variety of Plastic Trash Found on the Expedition

 Artists and scientists removing trash from the Alaskan shore

Artists and scientists removing trash from the Alaskan shore

 Trash Boat

Trash Boat

In an astounding video of the Gyre expedition, produced by National Geographic, one of the artists refers to the plastic trash as the “cultural archaeology of our time, haunting the natural world in a terrifying way.” She went on to say that “there’s never been a society that’s produced so much material culture but taken the least responsibility for it,” and that “the action of cleaning a beach changes you – puts you in a position of care,” rather than as a mere bystander to the problem.

I was very much inspired by the Gyre expedition and the artists who participated in it. The exhibition will run from Feb. 7 through Sept. 6 at the Anchorage Museum and then travel to other locations worldwide.



The Wave on the Women’s Radio Network

Elena and I were interviewed recently for a half-hour radio show dedicated exclusively to The Wave. Susan Brender, the host of V is For Vitality, an internet radio program on the Women’s Radio Network, and a former television producer for CNBC and MSNBC, was especially interested in how the project came about and what impact it has on the participants who come to our sites.  She encouraged us to compare The Wave to other large scale, public art installations and challenged us to define why she and others like her should not be intimidated by art they do not initially understand. On the whole, the discussion was lively, thoughtful and far ranging.

Ms. Bender did pose one question, however, that gave me pause. Noting her understanding that the Wave was inspired by the 2011 earthquake and resulting Tsunami Wave originating in Japan, she asked me how the Japanese have responded to the project.  With a bit of hesitation and a chuckle, I answered that, so far, we haven’t heard of any reaction from Japan – not for lack of interest on their part, but because we ourselves have not yet reached out to identify a potential site that might host a Wave installation there.

 Tsunami Wave hitting Japan  Photograph from Mainichi Shimbun/Reuters Published March 15, 2011

Tsunami Wave Hitting Japan
Photograph from Mainichi Shimbun/Reuters
Published March 15, 2011

As it turns out, Ms. Bender has a number of close friends in Japan and expressed a desire to put together a second radio program on The Wave, for which she would invite us back, along with an environmental/water scientist and a Japanese scholar to discuss current global water issues and some perspectives from Japan two years after the Tsunami.

Stay tuned.  In the meantime, you can listen to the first broadcast on http://www.womensradio.com/2013/08/v-for-vitality-52/

We Are Connected #2: The Faces of The Wave on World Oceans Day 2013

The Wave at The National Aquarium on World Oceans Day: June 8, 2013

Elena and I have just returned from creating a Wave installation at The National Aquarium in Baltimore to celebrate World Oceans Day.   Hundreds of visitors of all ages and from all over the U.S. and beyond participated in the event, which was held outside the Aquarium and alongside Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. How moving it was to see the diverse faces of  America and the world recognize their connections to one another visually through The Wave!


World Oceans Day: June 8, 2013

World Oceans Day: What’s That?

World Oceans Day is a day set aside each year on June 8 to celebrate the world’s five oceans (Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, Southern or Antarctic) for their inherent value as well as for the seafood they provide, the marine life they nurture and the international trade routes they contain in order to move products around the globe.

Besides being a day of celebration, World Oceans Day also calls attention to the critical challenges we face relating to our oceans: world-wide pollution and over-consumption of fish that has resulted in threatening reductions of most fish species. It is a day to sponsor and/or attend one of over 600 events scheduled in over 55 countries all over the world with the goal of taking action by participating in efforts to clean-up shorelines, organizing conferences to disseminate information and inspiring individuals of all ages to focus on the preservation of the marine environment.

Here’s an excerpt of a message from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, on the first World Oceans Day in 2009:

Indeed, human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitationillegal, unreported and unregulated fishingdestructive fishing practicesinvasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources. Increased sea temperaturessea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

World Oceans Day is sponsored by The Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network. The World Oceans Day website, listed above, contains a list of the participating sites, suggested resources and educational materials.

The Wave at The National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD for World Oceans Day

We are thrilled to be installing The Wave as part of World Oceans Day at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  Located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium is expecting up to 10,000 visitors during the June 8 and June 9 weekend, many of whom will participate in World Oceans Day by making a piece of The Wave.



Why The Wave?

The Wave-Kennedy Greenway,Boston

The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

A Water Event of Global Proportions

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.03 earthquake, centered east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku in Japan, triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet, moved portions of Japan by as much as 7.9 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis a distance estimated at between 4 and 10 inches.  Further magnifying the damage caused by the earthquake itself, the ensuing tsunami devastated the island country, leaving millions of people without homes, electricity and clean water and triggering nuclear meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In response to the tsunami, warnings were issued over the entire Pacific Ocean, including the coastal areas in most of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and western Alaska. Infrastructure damage and destruction from waves caused by the tsunami totaled hundreds of millions of dollars in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Papua, New Guinea and in Hawaii.  The impact from the 2011 tsunami is still being felt right now, in February of 2013, almost two years from the date of the original event. Recent aerial photographs taken along the coast of Alaska reveal evidence of widespread debris washing ashore from the Japanese tsunami and posing an environmental hazard of significant proportions.


Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from Japanese Tsunami, 2013

Conceiving The Wave

Here, in Connecticut, my fellow artist, Elena, and I were literally ‘struck’ by our own visual images (a frequent occurrence for artists) of how that 2011 tsunami in Japan literally ‘connected’ us all to one another: this enormous wave originating across the world and traveling from continent to continent before washing up on own ‘front door.’ We talked about developing a project that would visually represent how dramatically we are all connected, regardless of our nationality, religious preferences, race or other artificial divisions, by our mutual dependence on water, one of the fundamental requirements for life on Earth.

During our conversations, we also discussed an appropriate medium for the project, which we eventually dubbed, The Wave. (Catchy, don’t you think?) Because we wanted to emphasize the universal nature of water, our individual and community responsibility to protect this vital resource and the theme of our ‘connectedness,’ we felt very strongly that it needed to be a community engagement, interactive, public art program.

The Function of Interactive Public Art

Public art is generally described as any work that is exhibited, and sometimes created, in public spaces so that it is accessible to the general public, not just those who frequent galleries and museums. We chose to create a public art project because, by it’s very purpose, public art is meant to enrich communities, provoke discussion and heighten awareness of significant public issues and events. An interactive, public art project enables members of the community, not just the artists, to participate in the creation of the work of art itself.  Interactive, public art inspires creativity among participants around a specific topic, generates community pride and fosters connections among the participants.

The Wave Design

We designed The Wave with these goals in mind. Because the material we use is especially unusual, enticing and beautiful and because it is so easy to simply cut a piece of it that evokes ‘wave’ according to the visitor’s interpretation, each individual coming to a Wave site can feel successful.  Children as young as five, entire school communities including parents, staff, teachers and students of all abilities and ages, adults who are normally intimidated by making art and seniors have all embraced the opportunity to ‘connect’ their pieces to the growing, glowing and undulating Wave that we hope will ‘roll’ right across the country and beyond. Since September of 2011, we have created seven installations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York museums/galleries, parks and schools in the vicinity of water. People have asked us why we join the pieces with black parachute cord that shows so prominently as an integral part of the installation.  Why not use transparent fishing wire or some other invisible material? And, of course, that is the point. We are using the black cord to emphasize how this Wave is being created, piece by piece, connecting individuals, communities, states and hopefully, an entire nation, to one another.

The Wave, Kennedy Greenway, Boston2

Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

The Wave Blog: On Water and Public Art

Now that the project is gaining momentum and many new sites are being planned as we speak, we are taking this opportunity to initiate a blog on water and public art.  We’ll be posting stories, information and news that we find interesting and provocative on water issues and events, on other public art projects, on our experiences as we engage communities at Wave sites and on the progress of The Wave itself.  We welcome your comments, your personal water stories and your participation.