“Washed Up” gathers ocean pollution to create environmental art

Washed Up by Alejandro Durán
© Alejandro Durán

To create “Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape,” Alejandro Durán gathers plastic trash that washes up on the beaches of Sian Ka’an, Mexico’s largest federally-protected reserve. The site is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for its archaeological sites and amazing biodiversity.

Yet every day, plastic pollution from around the world washes up onto its shores. These materials inspired Durán to create a series of environmental art pieces, which he documents with photos and video. I had the opportunity to speak with Durán at a Brooklyn gathering organized by 5 Gyres, a non-profit dedicated to researching and fighting plastic pollution in the ocean. Durán was born in Mexico City and is now based in Brooklyn.

Washed Up by Alejandro Durán© Alejandro Durán
Durán said that he’s been collecting materials and creating photographs for the past five years, but that the work is ongoing. “The project will tell me when to stop.”

Each piece can convey a vastly different mood, from the serene greens of soda bottles, to the playful rainbows of toothbrushes, to the menacing reds or blacks of assorted jetsam. “I’m making art,” said Durán. “It comes from the context and my moods. You can’t say, ‘only make something dark.’ ”

Washed Up by Alejandro Durán© Alejandro Durán

The work reflects and plays with natural forms, re-framing and exploring how humans impact the environment. In one work, a collection of light bulbs arranged along the surf suggests seashells. In another, an assortment of green plastic vessels is arranged in a tendril to evoke a vine.

Washed Up by Alejandro Durán© Alejandro Durán

The colorful and playful images can be more attention-grabbing than work that’s all doom-and-gloom. “Beauty is a hook to attract people’s attention,” said Durán.

In addition to promoting awareness about the plastic pollution problem threatening the world’s oceans, Durán is also involved in educational programs and helps to organize beach clean-ups. He has also made a study of the types of products that wash ashore in Sian Ka’an, and has identified objects from 50 different countries. Although there’s no way to know where or how these objects were dropped into the sea, their labels reveal the global nature of the problem.

“Washed Up” is currently on display as part of The Fence, a multi-city public exhibition in Atlanta, Houston, Brooklyn and Boston.

“Washed Up” gathers ocean pollution to create environmental art
Alejandro Durán collects garbage from the shores of Mexico’s largest nature reserve to make art with a message from the ocean.

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