Pam Longobardi is an artist and ocean advocate who is leading the fight against plastic pollution. She is on a mission to turn the plastic waste that is polluting our oceans into art that speaks to the human experience. Longobardi has been collecting and photographing ocean plastic for over 17 years, turning it into art that serves as a warning and a message from the sea.
Longobardi’s obsession with plastic objects started in 2005, on a beach at the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. She encountered multitudes of plastic objects that the ocean was vomiting onto the shore. Longobardi could see that humans had permeated the ocean with plastic waste, and its alien presence had reached even the most isolated point of land in the immense Pacific Ocean.
Longobardi started cleaning the beach, hauling away weathered and misshapen plastic debris. She returned to that site again and again, gathering material evidence to study its volume and how it had been deposited, trying to understand the immensity it represented. In 2006, Longobardi formed the Drifters Project, a collaborative global entity to highlight the impact of ocean plastics and recruit others to investigate and mitigate its impact.
Longobardi’s work has culminated in a new book called “Ocean Gleaning,” which tracks her art and research around the world through the Drifters Project. It reveals specimens of striking artifacts harvested from the sea – objects that once were utilitarian but have been changed by their oceanic voyages and come back as messages from the ocean.
Longobardi sees plastic as a zombie material that haunts the ocean. When seabirds, fish, and sea turtles mistake this living encrustation for food and eat it, plastic and all, the chemical load lives on in their digestive tracts. Their body tissues absorb chemicals from the plastic, which remain undigested in their stomachs, often ultimately killing them.
Longobardi sees plastic objects as the cultural archaeology of our time – relics of global late-capitalist consumer society that mirror our desires, wishes, hubris, and ingenuity. By regurgitating them ashore or jamming them into sea caves, the ocean is communicating with us through materials of our own making.
Longobardi’s installations are made from plastic materials and are nearly impossible to recycle. She displays some objects as specimens on steel pins and wires others together to form large-scale sculptures. Longobardi is interested in ocean plastic in particular because of what it reveals about us as humans in a global culture and about the ocean as a cultural space and a giant dynamic engine of life and change.
The ocean is asking us to pay attention to the plastic pollution that is choking its waters. Paying attention is an act of giving, and in the case of plastic pollution, it is also an act of taking: taking plastic out of your daily life, taking plastic out of the environment, and taking and spreading the message that the ocean is laying out before our eyes.
Longobardi’s work is a call to action for all of us to take steps to reduce our plastic consumption and help protect the oceans. We all have a role to play in fighting against plastic pollution, and by taking action today, we can help protect the ocean and the environment for future generations. The ocean is speaking to us through the plastic waste that is choking its waters. It is time for us to listen and take action.
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