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The Finer Side of Flotsam: Making Art from Sea-worn Trash

Posted by on August 28, 2014 in Environment, Environmental Hazards, Wildlife with 0 Comments

Steve Hawk | Sierraclub 

Pam Longobardi despises her artistic medium of choice. She considers it a global scourge that's both tangibly harmful and potently symbolic of how our runaway consumerism is killing the planet.

Longobardi makes art out of plastic–specifically, out of sea-worn trash that she's hauled from beaches worldwide. She transforms the flotsam into powerful pieces, including the sculpture of two green eyes, at once haunted and accusatory, that stares out from the cover of this issue of Sierra. She calls it Plastic Looks Back, and if you look closely, you'll discover artifacts from her far-flung plastic-hunting expeditions: a fishnet float from Greece, a Hello Kitty head from Alaska, bits of pulverized plastic “sand” from Hawaii, a Virgin Mary from Panama.

While Longobardi considers herself an artist, an archaeologist, an activist, and a laborer, her primary job is as a professor at Georgia State University's Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design, in Atlanta. In her course Art and Environment, she asks students to “look at the triangulation between science, art, and activism in addressing environmental crises.”

Like many of the art professors Sierra interviewed for this year's “Cool Schools” issue, which celebrates the artistic side of environmental activism, Longobardi believes that a persuasive piece of eco-art can be an effective tool in the arsenal of social change. (See “A Thousand Words.”) “The most sensitive artists are like antennae,” she says. “They have a highly attuned visual acuity, so something will come to their attention before the general population is aware of it. They can warn us when bad things are coming.”

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