Working towards the Degree Show

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Fish monster for the Anthropocene : piscis plasticus 

What do I want to say through my work?

I want to communicate the sense and truth about the environmental crisis and, in particular, how it impacts on the worlds oceans, and how we, as humans, are implicated. Plastic features as vivid and ubiquitous evidence of our lasting legacy. The fish costume  shown above is constructed from salvaged plastic packaging and beach-combed fishing gear. I have worn it for my public performances and the film ‘Unnatural Tides’ which will feature in my installation.

How can I make an impact?

In December 2018 I saw Ulf Pederson’s amazing light installation at ‘Heligan by Night’ in Cornwall. The gardens were full of awe-inspiring light displays, including holograms, projections with smoke that moved in the breeze, neon colours and shows synchronised with a soundscape. It was magical.

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Heligan by Night Dec 2018

Fluorescence is surprisingly common in nature, particularly in the sea where many fish and corals exhibit biofluorescence, converting light from the UV and blue end of the spectrum to lower energy yellows and reds. I have been using fluorescent yellow in my work for some time, as a sign of toxicity and a warning, so the idea of using UV light in an installation was a logical progression. 

I used a shoe-box with UV LEDs in the lid as a mock-up of an installation space and experimented with different fluorescent paints and inks, on pieces of clear plastic and fish bones, with black and white backdrops.

I set up a trial installation with UV light in a tent at Plymouth College of Art, painting on sheets of PVC as well as paper, incorporating fishing net and plastic items. I wanted to retain the human element, to emphasise that every person is implicated in this crisis. So I set up a crime scene, inviting visitors to lie on black paper on the floor, as if murdered. I drew the stereotypical ‘chalk outline’ which I subsequently cut out and stuck to the white walls as if the bodies were falling, or piled up in a heap.

I returned to my idea of the fish scrutinising how we are desecrating their habitats, and painted fish and turtle eyes in fluorescent and black acrylics on PVC. A plastic paddling pool was filled with domestic plastic items on a fluorescent background. Could they communicate the crisis?

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Inside the tent with UV and some natural light…

I started experimenting with fluorescent inks and acrylic paints, making monoprints on sheets of newsprint and cellophane (derived from plant fibre and biodegradable), using abstracted imagery based on fish, nets and plastic. They worked remarkably well.

The last of the images shown above shows one of the 8′ x 3′ cellophane banners that I created to hang in the Degree Show. The oil-based inks were translucent, making the banner glow with colour, reminiscent of stained glass windows. This seems so appropriate to contemplate, at this time when we may consider praying to a higher power for a resolution of the predicament we are in.

I have always considered that fish skeletons speak of the extinction of fish more than any other imagery, so I had to incorporate these in my drawing and perhaps on the walls. This distorted black plastic mesh tumbled by the sea is skeletal in form and provided me with material to work from.

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Beachcombed plastic mesh under UV light

I created charcoal drawings and then ink and acrylic paintings on cellophane, with fluorescent pigments to highlight them, not knowing what they would look like under UV light…

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Two of the banners in the installation space before the black-out fabric roof was fixed in place.

The installation space that I was allocated measured 3.5.x 3.2m and I organised the building of a ‘chimney breast’ at the rear to house the screen to show my film. Holes were cut for viewing and the headphone leads (see above). Black-out fabric formed the roof and UV lights were installed. A double fabric curtain completed the darkness.

How the space was transformed! It became a magical place, dark and alien, frightening and intriguing, claustrophobic and yet contemplative. I installed the paddling pool and filled it with clear plastic containers and bottles, after dismissing the fish bones that I had painted with fluorescing pigment. Found black plastic artifacts were hung on the white walls, including the skeletal plastic mesh.

 

I am so proud of what I have achieved!

Role on the Degree show at Plymouth College of Art commencing Fri 14th June and continuing until Fri 21st June 2019.

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‘UNNATURAL TIDES’ installation view Degree Show PCA 2019

 

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