Sunday, August 31, 2014

Connect with a Scientist

We donned lab coats and goggles for our presentation Connect with a Scientist at the California Academy of Sciences. Emphasizing our collecting and categorizing methodology we invited museum go-ers to help us sort a bin full of Kehoe Beach plastic. Special thanks to our moderator Matthew Tucker who cajoled us and the audience with his lively banter.

Inspired by the groundbreaking work of Nat Bletter, Kurt Reynertson, and Julie Velásquez Runk. 2007. Plantae artificiae: The taxonomy, ecology, and ethnobotany of the Simulacraceae. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 5: 159-178. and the exhaustive and exhausting investigation by the dedicated Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group who have spent years classifying the plastic clips used to secure the closure of bagged bread and pastries, we decided to add a bit of performative fun to our talk. 

We dazzled the crowd with photographs from our Known Quantity series. Like specimen drawers in a natural history museum our "drawers" catalogue some of our most common finds from the beach. 

Before our demonstration, we visited the "Skulls" exhibit now on display at the Academy.
Over 400 sea lion skulls sweep across the wall, greeting visitors in a vivid exposition of "all the same —all different." Every sea lion skull is unique and every skull is from the same species, very much like the Tiparillo's we find and every piece of plastic as well. 

We were fascinated by the time-lapse video of the dermestid beetle larvae that exhibit preparers use to clean the flesh from skulls. Oh, that there were a creature able to devour plastic—but then, imagine your car bumper infested, your stroller wheels, your pacemaker.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Necco Wafers

Judith's eye-catching jewelry is often a great conversation starter about beach plastic and plastic pollution. So when she wore a necklace to the watercolor class she teaches at the Rohnert Park Senior Center, her students were curious about the "beads", the round NECCO Wafer colored disks. 

We had no idea about what these simple round shapes might be. We knew that they had to be something because over the years we have found a bagful of them.

The next week student Connie Allen was sure that she had found the answer in the livestock area at the Sonoma County Fair. The round disks are ear tags. Like a pierced earring they are stapled through the ear of sheep, goats and cows for numbering and identifying. 

Special thanks to Connie for her help identifying this mysterious piece of plastic. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Bottles are at the top of our "hit list" of items we find every time we go to the beach. So over the years we have amassed hundreds, no thousands of these ubiquitous no-deposit, no return throw aways. Although there recycling messages aplenty only a small percentage bottles are actually recycled. Putting a bounty on the bottles is an idea that is long overdue. 

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our friend and colleague Doug Woodring his Global Deposit Program is gaining traction. It's simple - PET has value, capitalizing on that value instead of throwing it away is kind to the environment plus it makes real economic sense. Reading about Doug's visionary project prompted us to put together this summary of how, over the years, bottles have been a recurring theme (not dream) in our artwork. 

In 1992 Judith created SUCK, a powerful image of a baby bottle filled with cigarette butts, designed to speak to young women and children about the detrimental effects of smoking on infants and children. SUCK was exhibited in 1993 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the bus shelter kiosk as part of an experimental venue for artworks. HEALTH EDCO, a leading national distributor of health education products provides resource materials on drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse, nutrition, patient care and the healing arts. Since 1994, they have sold thousands of the SUCK posters through their catalog and online store.

Terroir (Tare-Wahr/French): A Sense of Place
At the Marin French Cheese Factory          
7500 Red Hill Road, (the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road) 
Petaluma, CA
March 20-June 21, 2009
WaterLily was made from 365 bottles in a visual representation of the quantity used by one person, one a day for one year. By floating groups of bottles (lilies) on the lake, Judith created a beautiful reuse of what otherwise would, hopefully, be recycled or might otherwise be trash. Those 365 bottles are a drop in the bucket compared to the 37 billion disposable plastic water bottles Americans use every year. All that consumption of bottled water is pretty astonishing given that in most parts of the country, tap water is not only perfectly safe, but is also more tightly regulated that its bottled counterpart. Only 23 % of the plastic bottles get recycled, the others end up in the landfill where it takes some 700 years before they even begin to decompose.

In the summer of 2009, Project Kaisei a team of innovators, sailors, ocean lovers, scientists, environmentalists, and sports enthusiasts traveled to the North Pacific Gyre to study the marine debris that has collected in this oceanic region. They were interested in processing techniques that could be employed to detoxify and recycle these materials into diesel fuel. Doug Woodring, project co-founder, describes the plastic collected during that expedition, “These samples are ‘like moon rocks.’” This precious evidence from the gyre confirms the horror that we have all suspected was true. There is debris, great quantities of it.  The marine growth accretions on the plastic are evidence that the plastic has been at sea a long time. This bottle and shelf, direct from the gyre, were displayed at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center in 2009 in our exhibition Disposable Truths. 

Silent Spring, the book about pesticides and pollution by Rachel Carson published in 1962, launched the ecological movement. Judith was inspired by that influential book, and published in 2011 an empty plastic water bottle labeled Silent Spring to herald yet another environmental catastrophe. With the proliferation of the single-use plastic bottles a monumental ecological and health crisis loom. The shift away from drinkable tap water to bottled water creates mountains of needless garbage. The leeching of chemical compounds from the plastic into the water has unknown health consequences. The label on Judith's  Silent Spring uses the original font and cover color from the first edition of Silent Spring. The bottle is displayed on a glass coaster with a collage of a dry lakebed and photographs of empty water bottles. “Silent Spring” is an apt description for the transformation of pure mountain spring water into a corporate-owned commodity, a silencing of the source.

In 2012 the Palo Alto Art Center sponsored On the Road, a series of temporary site -specific installations. For that program Judith was commissioned to create a larger version of Water Lilies to float near Byxbee Park in the Baylands Nature Preserve.

Water Lilies opened April 8 with a reception on Earth Day April 22 and floated in the Baylands until August 14. Thanks to an intrepid team of assistants more 1,000 recycled single-use plastic bottles were glued together to make the pads.  While the volume of bottles in this sculpture is significant, it represents only a small fraction of the more than 37 billion plastic water bottles American use every year. 

In the Spring of 2013 we were commissioned to create a permanent installation for the Oakland Museum, Natural Science Gallery. Our ceiling piece The Great Conveyor represented the ocean currents as the great conveyors bringing us debris from all around the Pacific Rim. Single –use bottles and bottle caps are among the most common items found in the ocean waste stream. They come to our beaches, from our neighborhoods and from thousands of miles across the sea, connecting the world in swirls of single-use plastic. On the top of each cap is a small round mirror to reflect back that we are a part of every choice we make has a consequence. Recycling helps, but reduced use is the real answer. 

For the activity station we curated a collection of bottles arranged like a specimen drawer in a natural science museum. Hey!!! this is a natural science museum. On Kehoe Beach we find telltale product labels from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, even Russian. And our bottles from the San Francisco Bay end up on distant shores.

Hong Kong International Ocean Film Festival, April 2013
Ocean Art Walk
Stanley Bay
This time lapse film tells the epic story of the many bottles and the many hands that made creation of the Stanley Bay Water Lilies possible.

There is an undeniable beauty in the bottles as in these arrangements we photographed and printed for Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, CA. Every guest room in this lodge at the restored historic Fort Baker has one of our prints. View the collections here. 

It is surprising that after all of these these years we have found only one message in a bottle in 2000 just before the presidential election — the scrawled note, a political message said gush v. bore — got that right!

or maybe after all of the years the bottles are the message.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

sans or sand

Sans or sands, either way, time is of the essence.

Yes, that is Judith at two years old with the Cormorant, 1952, Seaside, Oregon and yes, now some 62 years later in her birthday suit, 2014, Kehoe Beach, California. Since that first introduction to the glories of sun and surf, the beach has been her place, "power spot" on the planet. On Sunday, July 13, it was reaffirmed with a long trek from Abbott's Lagoon to Kehoe Beach that included an annual skinny dip baptism in the chill Pacific Ocean. And, although a Cormorant did not present herself, many other creatures large and small did.


It was a glorious day that included a soulful rendition of Merle Hargard's The Day I Started Loving You Again, from a troubadour at the trailhead. Along the way there were many natural wonders — the scampering of a Long-tailed Weasel, the dive of River Otter, the flurry of a Northern Harrier on the hunt, bumble bees on the Cobweb Thistle.

There were special discoveries of a Mermaid's Purse, the expended egg sack for a Skate,
and the feathered nest of some diminutive creature who had taken refuge under the looming shade of a big piece of styrofoam. How about that for a creative re-use?

Richard, mighty friend and stalwart companion, always willing to go the distance — hauled back a hefty duffle bag full of plastic.

To complete the celebration, there was a birthday balloon on the beach.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where did all the plastic go?

Where did all the plastic go?
Coming through our news feed this week was the Los Angeles Times story about the disappearance of plastic so when Janis Jones (Judith's sister) sent an email Richard responded with an emphatic, "Dude. It's in our barn." Since 1999 we have collected tons of plastic from 1,000 yards of one beach. We are heartened to learn that our efforts are paying off: having a signifiant effect on the oceans. HA!
Read the report: Ocean Plastic Patch Missing

Where did all the plastic go?
This year because of the weather pattern, there hasn't been much plastic anyway. We long for the wet and windy El Niño days. Nevertheless, there are many other good reasons for heading to the beach. It's the Fourth of July weekend so everyone and their dogs had the same idea.

The day started with a quick trip for Judith out to Bolinas to deliver a proof print to expert birder Keith Hansen. His shop/studio is must for anyone interested in our feathered friends. His scope camera focused on a humming bird feeder gives an eyedazzling look at the quick flash and shimmer of those fast wings. For years Keith has been painting birds. His recent book Birds of the Sierra Nevada is the definitive volume on the subject. 

Thanks to iPhone technology Judith was able to record the song of a bird calling in the night. Keith identified it as the Western Screech Owl although its song is more melodious than screeching.

Although there has been scant plastic on the beach there are always natural wonders to be found including these talons from a  Red-tailed Hawk? Peregrine Falcon? Hey, Keith- what do you think?

Where did all the plastic go?
Bravo Plasticity!!! Doug Woodring from Hong Kong traveled to New York this week to present Plasticity, a forum for movers and shakers in the plastic biz who have great ideas about where the plastic can go. This convocation brought together the folks who, with boots on the ground, are re-thinking plastic from "cradle to cradle." If we don't take action on their proposals it will be more like "cradle to grave." 

Via youTube we were able to tune in. We realize that we are on the action continuum, finally arriving at # 5 in the five stages of plastic awareness. We seem to have fully inhabited the first four, now ready for the last. We are ready to put our shoulders to the wheel in a new way.

1. Surprise at finding so much plastic stuff blotting the beauty of the world
2. Disgust at the short term thinking
3. Rage at profits over posterity
4. Counter the claims of the producers and lobbyists 
5. Find solutions using what's given (the marketplace)

Where did all the plastic go?
In Baltimore John Kellert has stopped the flow with a sun-powered water wheel that is collecting trash flowing down the river. Since May it has collected some 40 tons- which means 40 tons that won't end up in the ocean.

Where did all the plastic go?
Researchers also note that recent studies have shown bacterial populations growing on plastic microfragments, weighing them down and causing them to sink. From todays collecting- a great example of the bryozoans and barnacles inhabiting a piece of plastic.

Report about bryozoans: Ocean Watch 

Where did all the plastic go?
It's one more year around the sun. This week is Judith's birthday week- apropos she found a birthday balloon that looks like it definitely has had its share of trips around the sun and sea.

Monday, June 9, 2014

World Oceans

Trails and Oceans Stewardship Day organized by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association brought together ocean advocates: All One Ocean, Marin Debris Action Teams, Marin Horse Council and our own Plastic Forever for a day of hard work and big fun to celebrate National Trails Day, June 7 and World Oceans Day, June 8.

Over 40 volunteers convened at Limantour Beach. Special thanks to Jessica Taylor from the Point Reyes National Seashore Association who worked hard to assure the success of the day. Good job!

Ranger John reminded that if we happened to find an artifact that looks like it might be of historical significance we should mark the spot and let the park archeologist investigate before removing it.

Hummmmm - wondering if the plastic bits we find today might someday be considered historically significant? Thinking back to the oldest piece of plastic we have been able to verify — our green oil truck, vintage '46-'49.

Chris Pincetich led a training session about his system for counting plastic pieces. His lively banter and extensive knowledge made the trek down the beach a lesson in the importance of an relaxed demeanor when teaching about the dire consequences of plastic pollution. It was obvious he has done many workshops with school kids.

In 2011 Pincetich started monitor-ing plastic pollution on six beaches at Point Reyes. With scientific accuracy he counts the number, and documents the size and kind of plastic. He sets up transects, or measured grids, to collect data before removing the marine debris. He intends to use his data to inform larger conservation efforts.

Having just read Bill McKibben's review of Walden Warming by Richard Primack in the New York Review of Books we have a greater appreciation of value of data over time. For years Thoreau recorded the blossom dates for the flowers around Concord, Massachusetts. Scientists today have observed the blossoming at increasingly earlier dates — solid evidence of the fact of global warming. Pincetech's rigorous measurement is just the kind of documentation needed to argue the impact of plastic pollution on beaches and in the ocean. Hummmmm — wondering about that first piece of plastic that arrived on the beach? When? What?

After an intense morning the group hurried back for lunch but I meandered looking for treasures. As I rounded a corner I heard a woman shout out to her companion in what sounded somewhat like German. When we came face to face I eyed her collecting bag and asked, Find anything good? Isabel and I struck up a conversation — what brought her to the beach today? She was at Bovine Bakery. By chance, Jessica told her about the event so she decided to come out to the beach. She was visiting from Switzerland. Zurich. She had been impacted by an exhibition she had seen there and thought that as an artist she might start incorporating plastic into her work.

Could it be Out to Sea? at the Design Museum?
Yes. Yes. That was the show. It was incredibly well done- a perfect mix of message and art. 
Yes. Yes. Those were our photographs of microplastics; of our nurdles in Zurich all the way from Kehoe Beach.

We marveled at our fortuitous meeting. There at the beach — true evidence of World Oceans. We really are all one.