Maine Sculptor's 'Beautiful and Discomforting' Take on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch


Photos of "Gyre" at the Center of Maine Contemporary Art by Anna Hepler via Flickr.

Recycled-plastic boats have been all the rage this year, but though sculptor Anna Hepler was inspired by the same massive area of marine debris that led would-be ocean adventurer David de Rothschild to start building Plastiki, her vessel isn't meant to be seaworthy.The quirky zoology blog CreatureCast -- which generally delves into the hidden lives of jellies, molluscs, and other obscure critters, illuminating why, for example, hagfish tie themselves in knots or how barnacles manage to mate when they're stuck to rocks -- tipped us off to Hepler's "Gyre," a piece installed earlier this year at the Center of Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) in Rockport and set to be recreated as "The Great Haul" at the Portland Museum of Art in 2010.

Inspired By the Great Pacific Garden Patch
"Hepler, one of Maine's leading professional contemporary visual artists, stitched together strips of shredded plastic into lattice shapes and suspended them from the ceiling and walls of the CMCA's loft gallery," Bob Keyes wrote for the Portland Press Herald. "Mostly blue and white, the plastic mass takes the shape of a boat's hull, filling the room so that it's impossible for a grown adult to walk underneath it."

Like de Rothschild, Hepler was driven in her endeavor by learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, some 100 millions tons of trash -- largely plastic -- swirling in the north Pacific Ocean. Carried from Asia and North America by ocean currents, the garbage becomes trapped by the north Pacific gyre, which gives the artist's piece its name.

Hepler told the newspaper that she wanted to convey "the tenuous feeling of being underneath a massive form floating overhead," perhaps giving viewers of the 45-by-15-foot sculpture a sense of the oppressive weight of all their discarded grocery bags and water bottles from a fish's-eye perspective.

Salvaging Plastic for the Piece
The piece is "beautiful and vaguely discomforting at the same time," the CMCA curators wrote on the museum's website: "The suspended form twists and turns, becoming denser in space, as if pulled into a silent vortex."

Though Helper had already been interested in working with plastic as a material, when she read about the garbage patch, the artist decided "the only responsible thing to do" was start salvaging discarded plastic to use in her work, Keyes wrote. The journalist thought viewers of her finished piece would no doubt have a similar revelation.

"After you see Anna Hepler's installation," he wrote, "you'll never take your groceries in a plastic bag again."

More about plastic waste and the garbage patch:
Focus Earth 2: Pacific Plastic, The Garbage Patch : Video
Chris Jordan Takes Shots at the Trash Patch
Researchers Reach Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Hang Heads, Come Back Home
First Great Pacific Garbage Patch Clean-Up Effort to Begin
Plastic Bags: Ban and Tax?
Keep Your Junk out of the Pacific Ocean Trash Vortex
Wal-Mart Goes on a Plastic Diet: 9 Million Plastic Bags to Be Eliminated From Waste Stream

Tags: Artists | Arts | Exhibits | Maine | Oceans | Plastics | Waste