Vanishing Point is an arts/science collaboration to raise awareness about the issues surrounding plastics pollution in the oceans and it’s ecological, biological and social impact. Initially the brainchild of wildlife artist Katherine Cooper, she is now joined by four other artists (Peter Walsh, Ron Moss, Toby Muir-Wilson and Sophie Carnell) and three scientists from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS, in Hobart, Tasmania) researching impacts of ocean plastics (Heidi Auman, Patti Virtue and Frederique Olivier). The goal of the project is to raise awareness in the community about the impact of our daily use of plastics through art and science communication in a complimentary and engaging manner.
Marine debris poses a vast and growing threat to the marine and coastal environment. Around 8 million items of litter enter the marine environment every day ultimately representing seven billion tonnes of plastic littering the ocean every year. It is estimated three times as much rubbish is dumped into the world’s oceans annually as the weight of fish caught.
Available information indicates at least 77 species of marine wildlife found in Australian waters and at least 267 marine species worldwide are affected by entanglement in or ingestion of marine debris, including 86% of all sea turtles species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species.Other threats to wildlife and ecosystems include destruction or smothering of the sea bed, accumulation of toxic substances and the transportation of invasive species.
Through the mediums of painting (Katherine Cooper), photography (Peter Walsh), poetry (Ron Moss), woodwork (Toby Muir-Wilson) and sculpture and jewellery (Sophie Carnell), each of the artists involved bring their own particular viewpoint to the project. All of the artists live and work in Tasmania and have established merit in their chosen fields of practice. The goal of the artists in this collaboration is not specifically to shock the viewer. While this can be a very effective mechanism for communicating the issue, this project will focus on the inherent beauty of colourful plastics as a metaphor for the general communities tendency to be ignorant of the deeper problems associated with plastic pollution.
Science communication to the general public is never easy. The general public can easily be overwhelmed or quickly lose interest in the complexities of scientific research. Conversely, the scientist often feels the science is too easily distorted or trivialised when attempts are summarised into a 1 minute news bite or 5 minute segment.
Art provides a mechanism to engage the general public. Almost always, the goal of the artist is to hook the viewer’s interest with something visually stimulating, then lead them into a deeper experience. Most art is multi-layered and attempts to draw the viewer into the artists experience step by step. The viewers initial interest is drawn to a simple, visually pleasing object (like a bower bird is drawn to brightly coloured objects). The skill of the artist is then to hold the viewers attention, unravelling a story piece by piece as their senses move around and through the artists work.
By combining this skill of the artist with the knowledge of the scientist, it’s possible to engage viewers through visual beauty and simplicity, then lead them through a deeper story to raise awareness of the issue at hand.
THE lecture series.
The University of Tasmania will also run its IMAS Saturday Public Lecture Series, beginning Saturday, May 1 at 11am at the IMAS waterfront building each Saturday for the duration of the exhibition. The exhibition space will be open from 10am to 1pm each Saturday from May to June. There will be a different lecture at 11am every week.