It has been a remarkable journey from Kehoe Beach to the Bade´ Museum in Berkeley and all the way to Tell en Nasbeh in the West Bank.
The exhibit Mining the Museum: Finding Meaning in the Mess is really a two-part show—a kind of call and response across space and time. Our collection of beach plastic in conversation with artifacts collected in the Thirties from Tell en Nasbeh, 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
This blog will serve as a living repository for stories about each of the items in the show. We love the blog format because it can continue to grow. We intend to add installation shots and reports about the adjunct events. And for those who can not make their way to the Doug Adams Gallery in Berkeley June 9 – August 28 the exhibition will be accessible everywhere via the Internet.
These are pre-production plastic resin pellets made in fracturing towers where the polymerized plastic falls like rain out of hydrocarbon clouds. These are in the 5 mm range, less than 1/4 inch. The squarish ones are extrusions, chopped into mini disks. But all of them are virgin plastic, not worn away from something larger. It’s the way raw plastic is shipped to the manufacturers of everything, from car bumpers to coronary artery stints. Piles of these devilish things blow like snow drifts. Devilish, because they are lipo-phillic, absorbing DDT, persistent organic pollutants like dioxins and PCB’s and can hold 10,000 times the amounts of these toxins than the ambient sea water. Little accumulator bombs.
The micro-plastic version of these nurdles, less that 1 mm. are found in exfoliants and toothpaste, made small enough to not clog the drain. Nurdles are primary micro-plastics, made to do a specific job. Secondary micro-plastics are worn down from something larger, like the lint from washing that fleece vest. Some say this polymer lint from washing synthetic clothing has formed a film of plastic in some ocean areas where-by the oxygen transfer from air to water is blocked.
The first paint brush was a finger dipped in pigment mixed with water, fat or maybe even spit. Today the idea of a brush is a metaphor for moving pixels. A digital brush can assume a thousand shapes—no longer relying on the long practiced coordination of the hand and eye—some computer applications even name strokes after well known painters. The Van Gogh effect seems to be among the most popular. Art lovers and historians can identify paintings by the artist’s stroke, functioning as a kind of signature. Leonardo was famous for having no discernible stroke, seeming to paint with smoke, we call his technique sfumato:smokey. Asian painting, especially in Japan and China where the brush is a writing instrument, rely on the action of the brush to create a mountain, a stick of bamboo, a carp. Videos abound demonstrating the magic of “One Stroke Dragon”—a whole creature realized in one masterful move.
Mostly paintbrushes are used for covering big swaths of surfaces on walls and boat hulls. All of these brushes are from Kehoe Beach distributed because of the buoyancy of the handles. Though they’ve been around since the 1940s, we don’t find paint rollers, because they sink. How many rollers can you imagine are decorating the sea floor?
This mouthpiece from a cigar came to us as a talisman from the classical world. Worn to a frazzle by some ardent chewing, it occurred to us that this tiny thing had the look of the Nike of Samothrace—Winged Victory dominating the grand Daru staircase at the Louvre.
What does it mean that you can find “this” in “that?” That this one picked out of the 1000’s of similar cigar tips, all found on Kehoe Beach, holds a tiny bit of wonder—that the mind can make meaning, and hold a feeling of mystery from ocean-born trash.
Is he the crowned king of materialism? The jolly old elf who asks, “What do you want this year?” Many traditions surround this guy, who is made from several parts of mythology all expressing the kindness of the gift, the potlach, the center of our Christmas frenzy.
Disinfects While it Cleans
We are rigorous about the rules and parameters of our project. 2 people, 1000 yards of one beach. That’s it. But, when our new neighbors, the Rechtschaffens gifted us this fine specimen collected from Bolinas, just to the south, we could not resist including it in this exhibition.
Lysol comes from the dawn of modern obsession with germ-free living. In the mid 1850’s, Cholera & Typhus were rampant in the congestion of industrializing cities. The biome of life in the “bush” was a thriving bastion of first-line defense against killing infection. City life with sardine-can crowding in tenements gave rise to plague after plague of infectious diseases. We had co-evolved with our essential inner good bacteria, but packed cities were in trouble. Lysol came to the rescue. These days, city life is possible because we are conscious of germs—the pine tar scent of Lysol became the smell of a decent public toilet. Clean was a technology that allowed for modern life.
A Lysol douche was used to disinfect the birth canal before a baby was delivered. We now know that infants are healthier in general, when coming into the world dosed with a supply of “good” bacteria from mom. We are recently more aware of the development of probiotics as a way towards robust health. Being too clean may actually be a detriment to healthy living. Balance, we learn from Asian spirituality, is essential.
Like the endless waves of the ocean, below the surface is a powerful force that never rests. Ocean currents are the great conveyors bringing us debris from all around the Pacific Rim. Single-use bottles and bottle caps are among the most common things we find on Kehoe Beach. They come from our neighborhoods and from thousands of miles across the sea. We find telltale product labels from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Japan, Korea, India, even Russia and our bottles from the San Francisco Bay end up on distant shores.
Tip Tip necklace 2009 Tiparillo tips and fishing float foam
No matter what season, the ivory-colored little tips from Tiparillo cigars are easy to find on the beach, one of the items we find on every trip to Kehoe Beach. They arrived on the smoking scene in 1962 from the General Cigar Company “improved” with a plastic mouthpiece so the cigar doesn’t get chewed up and nasty. However, the plastic tip is often chewed to a frazzle end. Imagine a lonely fisherman pacing the deck worrying that little bit of plastic.
These days, with the easing of regulations over cannabis, it may be that we’re finding so many because of their use in rolling “Blunts” the habit of rolling weed into the Tiparillo cigar. And, thinking of Blunts, we couldn’t resist including our pal Kay Ryan’s poem Blunt.
If we could love
have what we want.
What is the
blunt of this
I would ask you
like the Sargasso.
In oceanography, a gyre is a large system of rotating currents. This piece, titled “Widening Gyre II,” with over one hundred small pieces of plastic ensnared in a wrap of brass wire, is just a tiny fraction of the amount that is swirling now in the North Pacific Gyre, an accumulation of plastic in an area north of Hawaii. Some say that gyre is the size of Texas and that 46,000 pieces of plastic are floating in every square mile.
The truth of the Gyre is somewhat less than imagination calls up.The ocean is so huge, you can’t see the gyre from a satellite view. But the daunting fact is that there have been five gyres identified around the planet and while there are big pieces cycling around—fishing nets, bottles, chunks as big as a car—the real problem is from the abundance of tiny pieces, from solar breakdown and micro beads used in personal care products.
Jewelry is often a great conversation starter about beach plastic and plastic pollution. So when Judith 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 what these simple round shapes might be but 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 the fasteners for ear tags. Like a pierced earring, they are stapled through the ear of sheep, goats and cows for numbering and identifying.