From marine trash to art through community engagementMONA ANITA K. OLSEN, PH.D.
From a distance, the artwork unveiled in the exhibit “Alle Fugler” (All Birds) at the Galleri Lista Fyr in Borhaug, Norway, on Feb. 15 looks like paintings. As one moves closer to each piece of art, one can see that they were created by a fusion of plastic. Each of the 32 pieces of art on display were created using marine litter in conjunction with local schools in the area and arranged by artists Kari Prestgaard and Astor Andersen, known collectively as Prestgaard/Andersen, in conjunction with Besøkssenter våtmark (Visitors Center Wetland) at Lista and supported by Handelens Miljøfond (Trade Environmental Fund).
Using plastic in art has become more popular around the world. In Sydney, artist Marina DeBris has transformed trash into high-end fashion. In 2019, Dutch author Michiel Roscam Abbing, wrote the book Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution. Yoga groups speak to the idea of a plastic-free life, noting Prestgaard/Andersen’s work in the article. A recent article in National Geographic also highlights the challenge of how to have a world without trash—“A vision for a circular economy.”
In Prestgaard/Andersen’s words: “We like to speak of ourselves as anthropogenic artists. We tend to work in an ecocentric perspective rather than an anthropocentric one. We believe in the preservation of nature for the cause of nature itself, not for the benefit of humans. We need to realize that when our ecosystems suffer, all living beings on earth suffer. We all breathe the same air and drink the same water.”
Since 2013, the two artists have been touring Norwegian schools and working with students in workshops to educate them about the impact of marine plastic pollution. They have worked with over 15,000 students since then. The artwork in the exhibit were made by fifth- to seventh-grade students, who worked in teams at a workshop at Lista Lighthouse. The workshop was an hour long, held daily over four weeks.
As stated by Prestgaard/Andersen: “Our goal is to inspire the children to get more engaged and involved with nature. At the same time, we try to plant tiny seeds of empowerment in youngsters, hinting to the ecological, financial, and political challenges they will face in the future. Our works can function as conversation starters. Everyone gets the message, and everyone has opinions on how to solve the plastic pollution problem. Some people believe in technology, some want to regulate, some think that taxes could take care of it, others point at overconsumption and overpopulation. We have these kinds of talks with children as young as 12 years old, and their opinions are surprisingly mature. Dialogues like this—we call them ‘trash talks’—are a vital part of our workshop. We try to execute our teaching according to Confucius, who said: ‘Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.’”
The creative duo Prestgaard/Andersen lives and works in Sandefjord, a small town approximately 12.5 miles south of Oslo. Through their practice, the artists get to spend lots of time by the sea, collecting hundreds of pounds of art material through beachcombing for plastics. Just like miners, they wash and rinse their finds before sorting the plastic in various fractions, depending on color, size, and shape. Left on the beach, these materials would continue to harm nature for millennia to come.
“Most people, young and old, never experience how it feels to be on a beach that is heavily polluted by plastic,” the artists say. “Due to the economy, all public and tourist beaches are cleaned by machine at night. It’s just like the nightman who used to empty privies by night. Plastic is the new poo. Everyone produces plastic waste, but no one wants to see it or touch it. Meanwhile, plastic debris piles up on remote and less accessible beaches.”
The artists do not alter the pieces they find, using the materials “as is.” No glue, screws, or nails are used in the art. The creations are considered “temporary work,” meant only to last long enough to be photographed. After the photos are taken, every tiny bit of plastic is placed back into the material boxes, leaving no intended spill of plastic in the workshops or studios where they work. Once the photo is taken, the picture is optimized in Photoshop and then printed on paper, tabletops, aluminum, or other media.
Inherently collaborative in nature, the focus of Prestgaard/Andersen is on engagement in their workshops and their art spaces. The “Alle Fugler” exhibit will be on display at the Galleri Lista Fyr in Borhaug through April 26. The exhibition ends with an art auction for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) at the Galleri Lista Fyr on April 26. All proceeds from the “Alle Fugler” auction will benefit UNICEF.
Additionally, attendees can explore the work in a Route 8 Flow YogART class. Launched in March, Route 8 Flow hosts hour-long YogART classes (yoga inspired by art that builds community in flow and makes a difference). Portions of each yoga class fee will be donated to the UNICEF auction.
You can also learn more about Prestgaard/Andersen on their website at www.prestgaardandersen.com/hjem or follow Prestgaard/Andersen on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prestgaardandersen or Instagram at www.instagram.com/prestgaard.andersen.
Mona Anita K. Olsen is an associate professor at the Norwegian Hotel School at the University of Stavanger in Norway and now lives in Farsund. She is also the founder of Innovation Barn AS, leading the efforts to launch Yogibana in Norway. Yogibana is an artistic wellness concept fueled by the weaving of yoga and ikebana (Japanese style floral design) together in 12 steps.
This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.