Plastic: Fossil to Fossil

The Noorderlicht Photography Foundation and the Natuurmuseum Fryslân are organising a series of exhibitions under the title Guardians, concerning the relation between humans and the biodiversity that surrounds us. Although we feel strongly attached to nature, we often turn out to be the negligent keeper of this nature.

In this first part, Plastic: Fossil to Fossil, five photographers show images relating to the theme of plastic in nature. The exhibition Plastic: Fossil to Fossil can be visited until september 3 at Natuurmuseum Fryslân.

Plastic is an element added by humans, and one that we encounter everywhere in nature. It forms an unnatural, alienating addition to our environment and negatively influences the natural cycle in our ecosystem. The synthetic material is a product of the fossil fuel era; it is made from oil. Plastic objects are rarely biodegradable and it is therefore almost impossible to remove them again from nature. They will become fossils for future generations.

Guardians I
Mandy Barker (Great Britain, 1964)
Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly known animals
Plankton forms a diverse group of microscopic organisms that live in water. Because they’re unable to swim against the tide, they lead a drifting, floating existence. This species was discovered in the first half of the 19th century.
Barker’s work shows miniscule plastic particles found in sea waste in the same spot as plankton, which assumes these plastic particles to be food. Plankton is at the bottom of the food chain, whereby a whole range of larger animals will also swallow these plastic particles. The images with their deep-black background create the illusion of the deep ocean. The plastic particles are presented as new ‘species’, serving as a metaphor for the omnipresent material: with its miniature format, it draws attention to the much larger problems of an imperfect world.

Eduardo Leal (Portugal, 1980)
Plastic Trees
A million plastic bags are used every minute. The Guinness Book of Records describes the bags as the most ‘ubiquitous consumer item in the world’. These useful little bags form the greatest source of pollution and can be found all around the world: from the beach and the ocean floor to the Arctic region and on top of Mount Everest. Plastic is non-biodegradable and therefore continues to linger for hundreds of years.
The problem is even more acute in developing countries, where infrastructures for waste management are less advanced and populations are accustomed to throwing everything away. The plastic bags strewn across nature have a harmful effect on the landscape, but also on agricultural land, leading to the death of pets and wild animals.
Plastic Trees aims to draw attention to this problem. The work focuses on the spread of plastic bags on the Bolivian Plateau, where millions of bags are carried by the wind until they are caught in shrubs, becoming a blot on the beautiful landscape.

Chris Jordan (United States, 1963)
Midway: Message from the Gyre
On the Midway Atoll, a group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, some 3,000 km from the nearest continent, the waste of our mass consumption ends up in a not-so-obvious place: in the stomachs of thousands of baby albatrosses. The albatross chicks consume the deadly quantities of plastic because their parents believe the drifting plastic to be food. Just like the albatross, man is also no longer able to distinguish between what is nutritious and what is poisonous for the body and mind. The deaths of baby albatrosses therefore symbolise the result of contemporary culture’s unbridled consumption and growth.

Robert Voit (Germany, 1969)
The Alphabet of New Plants
An album featuring the most beautiful flowers – and yet, something is not quite right, whether it’s the plastic stem or the structure of the material used for the petals. They are artificial flowers, large quantities of which are produced every day and you’ll come across them in all kinds of variations as decoration.
Directly referencing The Alphabet of Plants by Karl Blossfeldt (1928), Robert Voit has compiled an archive of ‘new’ flowers, portraying them against a neutral background. In a playful manner, Voit shows the desire of man to imitate nature. He has also done this in his previous series New Trees, with large photographs of mobile phone masts that blend into the landscape, camouflaged as trees, cactuses or palm trees.

James Whitlow Delano (United States, 1960)
Every day in India, almost 6,000 tonnes of plastic waste is left on the streets uncollected. Some of this waste ends up in the state of Tamil Nadu, where it causes food and water contamination in villages around the Bay of Bengal. The photograph shows stray dogs in Chennai, standing on a rubbish dump in polluted water. The water - contaminated by chemicals from plastic and by sewage water - will eventually flow into in the Bay of Bengal, with consequences for the fish caught there.

The exhibitions Guardians I & II can be visited until september 3 at Natuurmuseum Fryslân.
Natuurmuseum Friesland, Schoenmakersperk  2 te Leeuwarden.

Guardians is part of the long-term project series ARENA, which explores themes concerning the relationship between man and nature.

Noorderlicht is an international critically engaged platform for narrative photography. It has been producing the prominent annual Noorderlicht festival in Friesland and Groningen for almost thirty years, along with organising projects in the Netherlands and abroad, and creating exhibitions in its permanent photography gallery.