In 2008, Maarten Vanden Eynde was shocked to discover that there is a “floating landfill,” about the size of the continental United States, made up of tiny plastic particles about 1,000 miles west of California and 1,000 miles north of Hawaii. Rather than biodegrading, these particles have undergone a process of “photodegrading” via UV rays from the sun, so that much of the plastic in the oceans is as fine as dust. These pieces are so small that they cannot be easily filtered out and they make their way back up the food chain, affecting all manner of life. Vanden Eynde is fascinated by replacement of ancient plankton, which eventually became oil, with plastic “civilized plankton”— a product of oil.
For the past four years, Vanden Eynde has been working on his Plastic Reef Project to raise awareness about the issue. He has been making expeditions to the four major plastic continents, or gyres, and collecting samples to remake them as art. The plastics are melted down and fused together to create colorful organic forms that resemble a coral reef. The result is a continuously growing sculpture that represents the rising levels of plastics in the oceans. The project is a perfect fit for this year’s Manifesta 9, whose curators chose its location at an old coal mine as a backdrop to address “ecological issues associated with industrial capitalism as a global phenomenon.”
More information on the Plastic Reef Project and the history of plastics can be found here. Vanden Eynde’s sculpture will be on view at Manifesta 9 through September 30.