Gallery: Coca Cola bottle tops, toothbrushes and odd shoes that have washed up on Suffolk beaches form new art exhibit
17:44 24 July 2014
Sarah Lucy brown
Environmental artist and campaigner Fran Crowe’s impish sense of humour permeates her latest project, but there is a deadly serious message in her use of the raw material for her work – the rising tide of damaging and indestructible plastic that rampant consumerism dumps in seas the world over.
Pieces of the vast plastics deluge that have ended up on Suffolk shorelines are the artefacts in an imaginary museum Fran has created in the Aldeburgh Beach Lookout. The former coastguard station commands wide-horizoned views across the North Sea and Fran’s long-held views on marine pollution become clear as visitors step across the threshold and enter a far-off future time, beyond what she calls the Age of Oil.
Hundreds of plastic “finds” from Suffolk beaches are labelled in Fran’s “Museum of Beyond” – described by the imaginary future’s historians and archaeologists in a way that today’s visitors should find amusing, entertaining, thought-provoking and conscience-pricking.
Suffolk-based Fran challenges “museum” visitors to place themselves in a future in which oil – for which an estimated 8% of the world’s total reserves are being used to produce plastics – has long since run out. By looking back from such a future to the present, Fran highlights one of the greatest pollution problems the world faces in an engaging, inventive and clever way.
Among the artefacts are plastic Coca-Cola bottle tops that are assumed by the future’s imaginary historians to be symbols or badges of “an international consumer cult that endured throughout the Oil Age”. Plastic netting is assumed to have been traps set to ensnare wildlife, a medal is assumed to have been awarded in an age of “extreme competition in which competitiveness was encouraged from birth” and which was awarded to a “baby with the largest appetite at a regional Olympiad.” And model cars represent “potent emblems” of Oil Age status – with Fran’s humour exemplified in the interpretation that the miniatures on show “may have been male fertility symbols.”
Fran’s project has been part-funded by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’s Sustainable Development Fund. Its serious message was clear when she told the EADT: “We are using up a huge amount of our limited oil reserves creating plastics, one-third of which we will only use once, such as plastic cups, bottles and bags.
“Yet plastic in our seas lasts indefinitely, just breaking down eventually into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastics, like diamonds, are forever. Moreover, these tiny plastic pieces are entering the food chain and perhaps even ending up as food on our plates.
“In the Museum of Beyond, I imagine a time beyond oil – the oil has run out and we live very different lives without plastics, and yet the plastic debris from our 21st-Century lives is still washing up on the seashore. I am asking what will people make of these items – and what will they think about us?
“The message is that we really need to reduce our use of plastics, especially single-use items, and dispose of them more thoughtfully. The Museum of Beyond is a combination of entertainment and encouraging people to think about something that is unpalatable.
“People may not be aware of the link between oil reserves and plastics and I am trying to make them aware even if they would not normally look at art and even if they are not normally interested in environmental matters – I am trying to make both as accessible as possible.
“The tongue-in-cheek museum ‘souvenirs’ will hopefully draw attention to the plight of our oceans and their wildlife.”
For the Museum of Beyond project Fran has worked with pupils at Coldfair Green Primary School, Knodishall, Aldeburgh Primary School and Saxmundham Free School. For the exhibition she is collaborating with Southwold-based composer and pianist Nathan Williamson and poet Leanne Moden, who will both create new works inspired by the museum. Nathan performs his work tomorrow at 12.30pm and 3pm and on Sunday at noon. Leanne will hold a poetry games drop-in today from 2pm-4pm and performances tomorrow at 11.30am and 2pm.
The exhibition, which is interactive, is open from 10am to 5pm today and tomorrow, and from 10am to 4pm on Sunday. Further information about the project is available at www.museumofbeyond.org