There’s a fascinating show at the Science Gallery in Dublin at the moment. Called Hyperbolic crochet coral reef: a woolly wonder, it’s main feature is a magnificent collection of crocheted reef-like formations. Many of the coral forms sport bits of human-generated debris entwined in them. This does feel like art, as the message of the project is given a sufficient metaphoric twist to raise it above pure propaganda…or does it? We are more tolerant of ‘message art’ that fits our own tendencies, I suspect, and are more likely to dismiss as manipulative ‘artworks’ that don’t suit us – imagine art made to lend metaphoric support to BP, for example.
I also liked the mathematical aspect to the show. Coral formation, it seems, involves some hyperbolic maths, such that parallel lines manage to diverge; there are a few simple diagrams on the wall to get this point across, though I didn’t get them. Anyway, if you’ve ever put strips of papier mâché on a balloon, you’ll know how lines converge on a spherelike surface. On hyperbolic surfaces they do just the opposite.
The point that stuck with me though was in a small piece of text in front of one of the exhibits. Imagine this: an artist assembles a large amount of plastic debris to create a floating island of plastic junk; sounds like a pretty trenchant eco-critique, with perhaps just enough of a twist not to be purely illustrative. Imagine another artistic intervention; this time a large rectangular shape is cut through solid rock, such that the sea can now dramatically fill the void at high tide. It’s a nice bit of ‘land art’, but nature has done the work for us, at Poll na bPéist on the Aran Islands. And it has apparently already put its mind to the trash island as well:
“In the Pacific Ocean north east of Hawaii a vast island of plastic trash is accumulating. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch this floating mass of debris is now twice the size of Texas and more than 30 metres deep." (more here) As far as I can remember, the wording in the Science Gallery has been localised – that the island is is “one and a half times the size of Ireland," and that it is 30 metres deep. In my head I was starting to work out how long it would take for the whole Pacific to fill with plastic.
Anyway, pretty good site-specific intervention, by nature. It’s a work to stop anyone in their tracks. It evokes strong visuals – all manner of plastic bottles and stuff bobbing on the surface, but below the surface one hell of an iceberg of junk. Alas -or ‘alas’, because it is bad enough – it’s not really so. It seems that this ‘island’ is invisible, the particles of plastic being too small to see or to photograph from a satellite; moreover, the size of the island is indeterminate, as such tiny particles don’t allow for any neat cut-off (more here). Visible or not, this amount of plastic wending its way into the food chain is probably not good.
In the end, I’m not sure where I am with all this. We are screwing very badly with our planet. The works in the Science Gallery make a serious point in an engaging, playful manner. But oddly the strongest visual image I was left with was of something that’s invisible, this Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The show runs until Friday at the Science Gallery; see if you can see it.