Plastic planet – The Pacific’s seventh continent

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Areas of plastic pollution accumulation are as vast as continents throughout the oceans of the world and the largest is in our Pacific Ocean. Known as the 7th continent, it is nearly six times the size of France (3.4 million sq km). 

While new legislation is rolled out condemning single-use plastic bags at our supermarkets, recycling in NZ is still limited, with mega-tonnes going into landfills in our already glutted and geographically limited land. 

Recycling will form a big part of the gallery’s education programme this year and will consider the health of our environment, and specifically the need to care for our oceans and waterways. 

Artwork by Lianne Edwards, courtesy of the artist and Whitespace, Auckland.

For decades, artists around the world have created work to draw attention to our interdependence with the environment. 

Land Art became one of the hallmarks of the 1970s, taking work out of the commodity-driven gallery system into the environment with figures such as Alice Aycock, Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer. 

Curating Aniwaniwa by artists Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena for the 2007 Venice Biennale was as much about promoting artists from Aotearoa and their epic magnum opus, as it was to raise awareness of cultural submersion and rising sea levels in the Pacific. 

But increasingly refugees are finding themselves forced to leave their submerged islands to settle in New Zealand. 

Venice is slowly sinking, while the bush fires raging in Australia have heightened the global focus on climate change and its effects. 

Gallery emphasis on recycling

As freshwater sources are drying up internationally with the ever-increasing climate emergency, glaciers disappearing, our precious water is being sold to offshore companies. 

There is ample room for innovative recycling and avoiding certain plastics and making conscious choices – and certainly educating our younger generations eager to find ways of creating sustainability for their futures.  

The marine environment in which we live, Tauranga Moana, is a precious and delicate environment, which saw New Zealand’s most catastrophic marine disaster 10 years ago with the sinking of the Rena. 

The massive amounts of toxic waste that spilled into the ocean rendered Papamoa beach a vast black oil slick destroying ocean habitats and killing thousands of birds. The impact has been particularly egregious for local iwi and residents of Mōtītī island. 

The series of exhibitions and public programmes the Tauranga Art Gallery is augmenting through 2020 delves into artists and the oceans, partnering with the University of Waikato. 

It also includes histories of navigation, referenced in Matatoki – Mata ā Waka, bringing precious taonga out of storage from the Tauranga Heritage Collection, and a partnership with The Elms in conjunction with a number of Aotearoa’s leading carvers. 

Edwards’ exhibition addresses plastic impact

Lianne Edwards, an artist who has a background in marine science, conservation and resource management will present her first public gallery exhibition. 

Using found material garnered from the oceans, Edwards specifically addresses the “plastic diet” of sea-life; fish, birds and plankton – becoming an inextricable part of the food chain. 

Her exhibition will feature a selection of work melding art, science, and repurposed, discarded materials from the Pacific Ocean, articulating the “Beauty and chaos, transience and permanence” of nature and “its mindless destruction by humankind.” 

Edwards’ artworks comment on our relationship with, and how we treat and value, the natural world. 

Growing up in New Zealand, her strong connection to the Pacific region surrounded by the Pacific Ocean is made tangible through repurposing flotsam and jetsam, plastic rubbish, and the ill-fated creatures, such as swordfish, which make up her found materials from the ocean. 

Microscopically delicate or commanding a strong physical presence as in the Wayfinding series of Sentinels and Sea Kraits, environmental messages and important themes are addressed in the artist’s concern for our oceans, our native plants and animals “and the future that we will be leaving for generations to come.”  

 Edwards has collaborated with organisations such as the Sea Cleaners initiative, and also with wildlife scientists to draw attention to our marine environment and with our critically endangered native bird populations. 

Her work is in the collections of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Chartwell Collection, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wallace Arts Trust and many private and public collections.

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